09/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

New Media, Same as Old, Old Media

Nic Brisbourne, a partner at venture firm, DFJ Esprit, has an article in paidContent talking about the future of news in a digital age. His view is that it will be, a) highly distributed, b) free, and c) forced into smaller packages. Says he:

In the digital world, the news industry, like many others, will be radically smaller. This contraction is partly a consequence of much reduced distribution costs, but is also a reflection of the fact that the monopoly rents Fleet Street enjoyed in the last century are a thing of the past.

A similar argument about the need for news (specifically, newspapers) to think small was made in this space earlier this spring.

In arguing that news will come (is coming) in well-distributed, niche packages, Nic Brisbourne is setting up his contention that a new sort of journalism will emerge to organize ongoing news and story-lines by curating the bits and pieces and providing insight and commentary on top. Huffington Post is mentioned as an example. So are TechCrunch and

Mark Cuban was recommending a similar deal to Rupert Murdoch recently, proposing that he aggregate News Corp content from around the world into custom packages if he really wants to try and charge for it. Nic Brisbourne isn't persuaded that charging for content will work. But, still, there is a sort of consensus between them that aggregating and curating information unlocks value.

News has become abundant, Brisbourne says, at a cost of zero. Indeed, hasn't all information? Music has become abundant. So has art, sports, travel, cooking (question: can there possibly be as many recipes in the world as appear available online? Answer: Of course.), pet care advice, child care advice, media and advertising advice, etc.

Information is abundant and free and Nic Brisbourne's argument is that collating the threads of its different parts becomes the scarce source of value.

Excellent. It may interest us all to know, now, that this was the premise of Time Magazine when it was founded. From the web site:

TIME, founded on the notion that a surplus of news existed which had to be licked into usable shape, felt no need to gather its own news until the 1930s.
From The Story Of An Experiment
Mar. 8, 1948

Aggregation was behind the great networks NBC and CBS when they got going thanks to the invention of radio. It is the premise of my favorite new magazine -- one that actually seems to be working -- The Week.

This means Nic Brisbourne is definitely on to something, which is that the future of news and information is largely the same as it has been. New media will evolve (is evolving) around the specialized aggregation of information and content (e.g. Huffington Post: breaking news and opinion; PerezHilton: celebrity gossip; TechCrunch: new Internet companies and technology).

This is different from the generalized aggregation of audience -- as everyone with a portal model found out early into the Internet revolution. But don't blame them for missing the point; they were mimicking what seemed like the successful model that main stream media had become. Wrong. Not successful. Almost impossible to sustain at super-size levels. Per Nic Brisbourne :

The great tragedy of the newspaper industry in the late 20th Century was that, in the pursuit of profit, quality journalism became a dying art. Budgets were reduced, journalists were asked to write more stories per day and were given less time to check facts. At the same time, editors were instructed to avoid stories that might create controversy and the expense of lawsuits. The result was more and more bland articles recycled from paper to paper, more politically motivated editing and the collapse of public trust in the newspaper industry.

When I think about media over the last 30 years, I think about the gradual dumbing down of content in order to appeal to a lower and lower common denominator. Fundamentally, we may regard the Internet as a total re-boot to what it was when pamphleteers dotted the media landscape.

Will history repeat itself? One hopes that the vastness of the new media landscape and its minimum barriers to entry for would-be publishers will postpone that possibility into the very, very distant future.