Media Communities > Media Companies
Nobody knows your story better than you do. So why entrust anyone else to tell it?
Our friend Balaji Srinivasan has said every company is now a media company. That may be true, but at the very least, every company will need their own media arm, whether that be a department, a company, or a community. We think that by decade’s end, it will be clear that media communities are far more powerful than media companies.
The business of media has changed
In recent years large papers and legacy press outlets have realized they’re competing with tech giants like Google and Facebook. Their distribution is downstream of the algorithm, meaning a considerable extent of their reach depends on the whims of these platforms.
As a result, the media landscape has fractured and re-shaped in numerous ways. The New York Times has expanded their opinion section by adding dozens of oped journalists in 2013––it accounted for 10% of the paper’s total output but 20% of its readership. Meanwhile, they’ve lost their advertising revenue and adopted a subscription model that’s growing a new audience.
The push towards opinion content is natural when you consider that the media has grown increasingly reflexive. People subscribe to outlets that paint a view of the world they agree with and present things the way they wish them to be. Publishing is a business. It needs readers to keep the lights on.
Journalists are under time constraints and crushing pressure to meet deadlines. As deadlines loom, details get lost. Writers are dealing with new and unfamiliar topics all the time, learning all they can on the crunch before press time. It is no easy job, given the low pay and any upside is mostly status-based.
Nobody has the same incentives to get your story right as you. It’s not always malicious––they may just lack your knowledge or expertise. Of course, in extreme cases, articles are written in bad faith. Unfortunately, it’s more common than is healthy.
The Gell-Amnesian Effect
For readers, the constant churn of news and content leads to something called the Gell-Amnesian Effect.
When you read a story in a major reputable outlet about a topic that you know very well, you realize all the details they got wrong, because you’re an expert. But when you flip the page and read another story on a topic you know nothing about, you take every detail as fact. You’re not an expert on it, so you don’t bring the same rigor to your reading.
Any one person can only be an expert in a handful of spheres. When it comes to unfamiliar topics––which make up the majority of what you’re reading––you take things at face value. This leads to a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding. So when people read a story about you as filtered through someone else, they take it as gospel, no matter how riddled with errors and inaccuracies it may be.
This is why it’s more vital than ever to ensure people are getting your story––your true story, down to every last detail. By telling it yourself, or empowering a community of passionate supporters who have “skin in the game” to tell it on your behalf, you ensure the truth gets out there.
Everyone is now a citizen journalist. There are individuals who boast follower counts larger than big tech news outlets. Many world class journalists are leaving institutions for more personal (and profitable) platforms like Substack. Podcasts routinely draw more listeners than the nightly news. When it comes to staying informed, consumers are choosing individuals over institutions.
Vitalik Buterin and Muneeb are on Reddit channels taking questions and talking to people. Elon Musk is using his 50 million Twitter followers as his bullhorn. They don’t talk to the press anymore, because they don't stand to benefit and they don't have to. They can go directly to their followers with no middlemen.
Over the past few years the prevailing view was that, in this spirit, every company should run their own media arm. You write your own stories, push them out, build an email list, and take control of the narrative.
But even that is likely to evolve. Now, you can go from media company to media community and see more impact.
By tapping the most high-signal stakeholders of an idea/project, a chorus of voices who know the topic well tells the story. Each of these storytellers brings their own distribution channel, a network they can light up again and again. Talking about your idea yourself is one thing, but if high signal stakeholders spread the word in a genuine way, greater legitimacy is won.
These stakeholders become more than messengers, they become missionaries. Their goal is not increasing subscriptions, it is achieving the mission of the underlying idea they have a stake in. When they have stake in the success of the vision, they’re empowered to carry their own message, tell their own stories in their own ways, and connect with even larger audiences.
The bottom line is this: if you don’t tell your story, someone else without a horse in the race will. Why would you hand something so important to anyone else?