Politico vs. the “Voice of God” model

One of the things that most struck me about this well-written & interesting case-study chronicling the founding of ‘Politico’, was Jim VandeHei’s astute observation of a critical point traditional media outlets seemed to miss in their evolution into web-based media platforms, namely, continued reliance on outmoded perspectives of what news media is in the Internet Age.

In my opinion, many traditional media outlets still subscribe to the theories of ‘mass media’ that governed much of the 20th century and influenced content, its production, distribution and – more importantly – the relationships between media institutions and their audience. According to our case-study, VandeHei “felt that the Post was “a newspaper that also happens to be a website”, and that the institution was not equipped to take full advantage of the Web’s possibilities for interactive multimedia material”. This sort of concern has been further expounded upon in an interesting article titled “Crosbie’s Manifesto : The Greatest Change in the History of Media” , which essentially argues that the critical mistake traditional media is making, perhaps unconsciously, is treating the Internet simply as a new communications vehicle, simply a new medium where old concepts of’ “mass media” theory and strategy can simply be transferred onto web-based platforms, instead of realizing that this medium has essentially brought about the emergence of a completely new concept and definition of media itself – from production to consumption to the relationships between and amongst its diverse actors (content producers, managers, investors, audience etc).

The Internet, in my opinion, is defying almost every rule that defined ‘old’ media. It is challenging us to think of new approaches to content production, delivery, readership/viewership etc, beyond just the more obvious and widely discussed challenge of revenue streams. I thought VandeHei exhibited a visionary understanding when he expressed skepticism of joining the WashingtonPost.com model of merely being a web-version of the print edition with a few additions and subtractions, instead of aiming to create a completely new institution that could take into account the unique characteristics of Internet-based media & communication patterns – for example, strong emphasis on personal relationships vs. loyalty to an institution’s brand. Internet users increasingly value and operate on personal accessibility, tone and trends, thanks to platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc, that have made once top-down ‘voice of God’ mass-media models incongruous with the proximity, accountability and certain humanity that Internet audiences have come to expect from their media. In the Internet age, with its characteristic emphasis on individuality, people no longer feel, nor want to be viewed/ related to as if they are a “mass”, and it is this point that the founders of Politico identified and capitalized on, I believe, correctly.

I applaud Politico’s awareness of making news more personal, or as their mission statement puts it: “Reading a story should be just as interesting as talking with the reporter over a sandwich or a beer”.

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