Marc Andreessen is one of the most effective persuasion panthers currently operating in the jungle called venture capital. If you are old enough, you’ll recall that as college kid, Marc invented Netscape, the first widely adopted web browser that made web access and navigation simple, and scared the living hell out of Microsoft since Netscape was essentially a new operating system that changed how PCs could be used. There ensued a death struggle between Microsoft and Netscape ending ultimately in the destruction of Netscape and the sentimental education of Marc Andreessen. He learned more about persuasion in that battle and you see his change in the pivot from a code guy into a money guy.
As a money guy Andreessen shaped Web 2.0 with Facebook, EBay, Twitter, Skype, Foursquare, Pinterest, Zynga, Groupon, and you get it. Marc’s vision and persuasion is largely responsible for how the Internet looks and operates. And realize that it is both Marc’s vision and persuasion that matters. One without the other is useless. Today Andreessen is offering his persuasive vision about Journalism 2.0.
I am more bullish about the future of the news industry over the next 20 years than almost anyone I know. You are going to see it grow 10X to 100X from where it is today. That is my starting point for any discussion about the future of journalism.
If you know anything about the old journalism business model, you know that at one time, back in the days of Your Father’s Oldsmobile, journalism spoke truth to power, functioned as a vital check on government activity, and made a pretty good buck. Now, with the rise of Andreessen’s Web 2.0, that business model is broken largely because the network of Apps ‘n iGizmos destroyed the monopoly journalism owned over the means of distribution. Anyone can be a journalist with an Internet addressed computer, a free blog site, and a comfy pair of pajamas. Journalism 1.0 is a shambles of its former self with the once crown jewel, The New York Times, competing and often losing to smarmy new outlets like The Huffington Post.
Yet Marc is bullish on news. Very bullish. 10X to 100X growth rates bullish. And if you read Andreessen’s thoughts, you would agree. He envisions ways to harness quantity and quality in strong business models that will produce a growing Journalism 2.0 and make some serious money along the way.
Yet, if you read Marc’s vision for what it does not say, you begin to see the outline of the persuasion that drives the apparent vision. The heart of the persuasion beats with the General Semantics Persuasion Play®™© wherein careless readers confuse words for things and begins eating the menu or drinking the label. Marc constantly refers to this thing that is going to grow at 10X to 100X rates as, Journalism, but it is a journalism that does not include that fundamental check on government or truly speaking truth to power. Consider the examples of great Journalism 2.0 that Marc sees now.
AnandTech, The Atlantic, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, Politico, Search Engine Land, The Verge, Vice, Wirecutter, and Wired.
Note that almost all of these sources have very specific audiences, and with the exception of The Guardian (a British news source), the specific audiences are built with specific content. None are multi-dimensional sources of objective and neutral information about a wide variety of public affairs. Most are decidedly edgy, partisan, pointed. And, but for one, none are government watchdogs, providing an informal Constitutional check on government operations, speaking truth to power.
Imagine just now with the tension over Ukraine what anyone of these sources could say that would produce a mass audience learning truth that governments were concealing. Each might say something that would strike its narrow audience and that might get rippled through other sources, especially ubiquitous fire hoses like Twitter or Facebook, but you will never get the powerful blow like we once saw with the Pentagon Papers or the Watergate reporting from the Washington Post.
The single most important function of journalism, that check on government operation, is buried alive in Journalism 2.0. You can prove this yourself. Look carefully at any Journalism 2.0 story on government wrong-doing and you almost always find that the original evidence came from an existing watchdog or oversight group, most famously the Government Accounting Office. Journalism 2.0 rarely digs up original information through its own gritty effort and instead waits for someone else doing their job to issue a report. Or else they are Riding the Hashtag.
Andreessen speaks it plainly.
Those are the key structural issues holding some news businesses back, but there is an approach to how the news is created that also prevents progress. It’s the notion that “objectivity” is the only model worth pursuing.
The practice of gathering all sides of an issue, and keeping an editorial voice out of it is still relevant for some, but the broad journalism opportunity includes many variations of subjectivity. Pre-World War II, subjectivity was the dominant model in the news business – lots of points of view battling it out in marketplace of ideas. As with people and opinions, there were many approaches to writing or broadcasting on the same topic.
My take is that the rise of objectivity journalism post-World War II was an artifact of the new monopoly/oligopoly structures news organizations had constructed for themselves. Introducing so-called objective news coverage was necessary to ward off antitrust allegations, and ultimately, reporters embraced it. So it stuck.
Andreessen’s analysis here is absolutely incorrect, self-serving, and persuasive. Even during his dismissed days of “objectivity” there were many approaches to writing or broadcasting on the same topic. Those ways typically varied with the reporting effort the different sources made as some worked harder to learn more details that others missed.
Andreessen’s Journalism 2.0 is applied persuasion. Define a targeted set of Other Guys. Understand their Local. Create information that attracts their eyes and ears. Then make money on this audience through ads or subscriptions. For Andreessen, information is a commodity to be packaged and sold and that’s as far as he is concerned. He speaks to no values of community, citizenship, polity, he recognizes no Constitution or law, tradition or culture. It’s all and only information that can provide ceaseless content with slant to the relentless grinder called the network of Apps ‘n iGizmos, always on, always tapped.
Now. Given Andreessen’s proven track record, if you are a vampire, you are flocking near Marc right now. You are looking at the old and dying journalism and seeking ways to take the brand name concept that once pointed to particular things and run the General Semantics Persuasion Play®™©, confusing the Other Guys into confusing old words for new things when it is only persuasion pushing Other Guys into Bolivian Banks. Just as Marc’s vaunted Social Media is never social like a church social or a bowling league or a PTA meeting, Journalism 2.0 is not journalism as a countervailing force to government, but a FauxItAllery, a saying more than is known or understood while looking smart, bright, and digital.
Everything from Andreessen is a persuasion that substitutes words for things or functions or values or reality that human nature requires, but can be fooled into surfing rather than living. And, he’s proven this works with his forays into SM 2.0. A lot of Other Guys will eat the screen and think they are citizens when they are just WATtapping for Marc’s profit.
Journalism 1.0 is quite nearly dead and you can see it right now if you take one hour to dig around about the crisis in Ukraine. There’s a lot of good Journalism 1.0 out there that explains what citizens need to know, not zealots or profiteers or persuasion players, but just folks living in the community. But you cannot easily find 1.0 because Journalism 2.0 standing on top of it.
The 2.0 hipsters are grooving for a big surprise. There is a difference between Falling Apples and Fallen Apples.