Given only one word to describe 15 years of digital media's evolution it would have to be robotic. Nothing says this better than the balanced and comprehensive piece by Nicholas Spangler about his 40 hours, or so, as a Demand Media writer that appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review and was brought to light here thanks to MediaBistro's Morning Newsfeed.
As a journalist that worked for years for The Miami Herald, Spangler writes with open resignation, but not malice, about the end of his journalistic world and the rise of the new one typified by Demand. It is a world of "commercial content," driven by algorithms "without", he writes (perhaps quoting Clay Shirky), "regard to civic value or subjective judgments about quality or any of the other sentimental trappings of the Murrow century."
It is a drab landscape he paints. Gray and Eastern bloc-ish. It is all cement. Combined with similar trends on the media planning and buying side of the business - the automated this-and-that of real time buying and audience targeting - we appear ready to enter a machine-led world where imagination is being wrung from the fabric of information in order to reduce the high cost of it.
It is a world empty of bravery and out of step with the needs of brands except, perhaps, the needs of their capitalist overseers. As importantly, of course, it is world out-of-step with consumers. It seeks control.
Writes Nicholas Spangler:
"...there is a point where traditional news organizations, which target to a greater or lesser extent a mass audience with advertising to match, will always fail: that failure to meet the needs of someone, somewhere, is built into their business model. Consider: The Miami Herald usually runs a story about the Kentucky Derby. It might also run one about pony-rental businesses in South Florida, and if magazines like Ponies Illustrated and Children's Parties Monthly existed, they might do something similar. But no publication could afford to devote regular space to topics such as pony rides without ponies. Besides, no writer could conceive of such a story and no editor would assign it, because nobody could anticipate the need.
"This is the famous "long tail," an example of what Shirky calls the "nichification" of the media landscape, unfeasible under the conditions of twentieth-century oligopoly but happening now before our eyes."
No, it happened over 15 years ago. Demand Media didn't invent the long tail. People did. And the point is that if fear weren't the governing factor of life inside our new media industry today we might have stepped outside by now to discover this highly imaginative, highly responsive, highly personal, colorful, brave new world. Instead we send robots.
Brave new world, indeed. One Huxley might recognize.
There will be a final conflict and the people will prevail.