Sunday, 7 March 2010

"Burn the boats," says Net maven - and now much-sought-after tech co board member - Marc Andreessen, advising old media ('MSM' - mainstream media) companies facing continued disruption due to falling revenues as advertisers switch to vehicles other than the traditional newspaper.

In Tech Crunch, Erick Schonfeld writes up an interview he did with Andreesen last Friday in New York. The gist is simple. By way of an analogy, the Mosaic developer and Netscape founder advises media companies to ditch their print editions.

The analogy would resonate for North American readers. In the 1500s, writes Schonfeld, Hernando Cortes landed on the shores of the New World. He "ordered his men to burn the ships that had brought them there to remove the possibility of doing anything other than going forward into the unknown", says the legend.

Fairfax CEO Jack Matthews said a similar thing during his opening remarks while launching the (now annual) Media 2010 conference in Sydney on 19 February.

The previous year, said Matthews, while "deep in the throes of the GFC"

I think we were wondering how, or even if, many of us were going to make it out of that environment. Those of you who were here will recall, at the time, I used the analogy of Joe Simpson's [1998] book, 'Touching the Void' when, you recall, Simpson, while descending from a very difficult climb in South America fell deep into a crevasse and shattered his leg.

He realised, as he was in that crevasse, that he simply couldn't climb back out the way he came. And, counterintuitively, he climbed deeper and deeper into the crevasse and found, ultimately, a way out of the situation. And obviously he made it because he wrote the book. Made a little bit out of the [2003] movie, as well.

And at that time I argued that, we too, as media companies, needed to find a new way out of the circumstances that we found ourselves in, that simply going back the way we came wasn't going to get us there. And as I see it today, we all feel better today, I think. We all feel like we're kind of - not to mangle my analogies too much - but we all feel like we see light at the end of the tunnel.

Bu I would argue today that the risk we now face is the view that everything is back to normal. Because I don't think everything is back to normal and, in fact, I think it's fair to say that the is a new 'normal'.

The thing is that Andreessen's remarks touch on the same chords Matthews is striking here. The "singularity", that Matthews goes on to mention, is now upon the news. Not only is there no turning back, there is no way to know how to go forward.

So then why did Fairfax announce, after doing a minor tweak to its masthead websites recently, announce a "new website"? Why should a few new boxes on the already-overcrowded Fairfax masthead websites constitute a major change?

Matthews may be aware of the situation facing the mainstream media today, but the steps his company are actually taking do not match that conviction. If there's a new 'normal', the website tweak does not demonstrate much commitment to that new model of proceeding.


Larry Fine said...

Without looking it up (I trust your honesty) - can you give the definition and origin of the word "maven"?

I don't mean can you give me the sense in which it is used in the media. I mean do you actually know what the word means, and do you know where it is derived from?

Strikes me it is one of those "newspaper words" that people in the media use, because they see other people in the media use it, but which no one uses in real life, and the origins of which most people who do use it would struggle to be able to provide.

Throw into the same category words like plaudit, garner, hustings and brickbat.

Matt da Silva said...

Hey Larry - Well, you're right. I had to look up the etymology but I've used it before and I knew what it meant before using it here. Unfortunately, it's an American word - I already knew this. What I didn't know is that it's Yiddish in origin. Also unfortunately, it's a good word. I can't think of another word that has the same connotations. 'Pundit' has a neg connotation I don't think suits the context. 'Maven' connotes action and experience, in a positive way. If you can give me a better word, I'll use it next time.

Larry Fine said...

"Unfortunately, it's an American word ..."

You don't like Americans?