It’s official. Last week’s events prove that we’re now in the direct-to-consumer era of information media.
The household I grew-up in had a pretty typical information media diet. We started every day by reading the morning newspaper spread out on the breakfast table while we ate Cheerios. Then in the evening we watched The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite on TV. That was it — that’s how we got our news. Oh, and our small-town newspaper, which came out three afternoons a week. My very first job was delivering that newspaper door-to-door on my bicycle (yes, I am that old).
Today, of course, it’s a little bit different. Today our information media diet is more like a flamethrower to the face all day.
No longer do a few media outlets carefully curate the news and deliver it to us a couple times a day. Today it comes at us from everywhere all the time, largely because anyone with a social media account is now a real-time information publisher — no journalism degree required, no printing press required, no grammar or spelling skills required.
The Trump era, as we all know, was defined by a guy who had 80 million Twitter followers. Let’s take a moment to put that into perspective: The New York Times has 7 million subscribers, and every story published has to be approved by editors who subject it to journalist standards. Trump could deliver content direct to 80 million people, unfettered by editorial review or journalistic standards.
Read those last two sentences again and you’ll understand that we’re now in what could be called the direct-to-consumer era of information media.
I’ve been thinking about this recently, as last week we saw a bunch of ordinary people on Reddit drive up the price of a stock, causing some Wall Street hedge fund guys to tremble in their underwear.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wanted to comment on the events. But rather than be interviewed on a financial news network about possible congressional action, sent out a Tweet saying that she’d be live on Twitch that evening to discuss it. 368,000 people showed up. On Twitch. To hear a congresswoman talk about Federal policy. Crazy.
Then the next day, Elon Musk (45 million followers) Tweeted that he was going to host a conversation on Clubhouse with Robinhood’s CEO, Vlad Tenev, about Robinhood’s role in what happened. And most of Silicon Valley’s cognoscenti showed up to listen to two CEO’s interviewing each other — with no reporter, no moderator, no news organization involved. Again, crazy. (Here’s a very good piece about this).
Meanwhile, as part of this direct-to-consumer information media trend, paid newsletters are suddenly huge. It’s like following your favorite newspaper columnist except you pay a subscription fee to have the column delivered direct to your email inbox, with no editorial oversight. Substack has built a whole new business around this, Medium is now adding this functionality, and Twitter just made an acquisition to get into the newsletter business!
Who would have thought that email newsletters would come back again? Suddenly VC’s are investing in a 1996 technology! Crazy. (Me, I’m still using MailChimp).
To cap off the week, the most powerful venture capital firm on Sand Hill Road announced that they were launching their own digital media publishing property. For a firm to have a PR department isn’t new — but for a firm to decide to just bypass journalists completely and create their own information media network is very new indeed. And raises some ethical concerns about a VC firm controlling the news that is published about its own portfolio companies.
I don’t know for sure where this is going. But I do know that the events of the last week demonstrate that we’re officially in a new era of information media. We are now all-in on a model that harnesses the efficiency of direct-to-consumer, at the expense of journalistic oversight. Stay tuned.
Jessica Lessin has an excellent piece on this entire topic.