Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Two years ago I became a journalist blogger . . . and discovered a terrible thing

Posted by Tom Foremski - September 27, 2006

It was about two years ago that I started "blogging." I had left the Financial Times in early June and took the summer off, I spent most of it chatting to people about my plans.

It was a good exercise, to try to explain to others what I was doing. I wasn't sure myself.

It took me most of the summer to boil down a 30 minute explanation to one sentence: I am publishing an online news site reporting on the business of Silicon Valley.

Two years ago I knew in my gut that we were at a crucial point in a rapidly changing media sector; and that taking this risk (two kids and an ex-wife to support) would be worthwhile.

I knew that business would not be getting better for my employer because: technology advertising wasn't coming back due to the dotbomb fallout; M&A taking away large advertisers; and financial services advertising wasn't coming back either because the IPO market was a bust.

In addition, advertising was rapidly moving online...

I didn't realize at the time that I would become the first mainstream journalist to leave to become a professional "journalist blogger."

Other journalist that also blogged, Dan Gillmor, Om Malik had day jobs. It would be another seven months before Dan Gillmor left the San Jose Mercury, and two years before Om Malik left Business 2.0 to become fulltime journalist bloggers.

I also didn't realize the effect this would have on my surroundings. One of my contacts at a large Silicon Valley company told me, "Suddenly, we realized that because you had left the Financial Times to become a blogger, we needed to take blogging seriously." It was a comment I heard at other companies too.

But when I left the Financial Times I had never blogged. And I'm ready to admit, I didn't even read blogs.

However, I knew that the blogging platform was incredibly robust and that I could produce a column of Tom Foremski for a lot less than it cost the Financial Times. And that my journalism wouldn't be shut away behind a subscription barrier.

My posts, if they were good enough, would be distributed by my readers and shared among their peers. This is a far better model than trying to limit distribution of content to paid subscribers.

True, I didn't have a business model at the time, but I knew a business model for online publishers would be inevitable.

I also knew that the costs for a newspaper business are much higher than online business models can support. That means that "you can't get there from here" a wonderful American expression that sums up the huge challenge media businesses have in downsizing/rightsizing for online revenue models.

My costs are very modest compared with any traditional newspaper business, with its large legacy infrastructure, pensions, its legions of editors, layers of administrators, office buildings, distribution systems, printing presses, janitors...

The change in media business models has been created by the simple fact that it is more effective to sell products/services next to a search box than next to journalism.

The reason online companies such as Google, Yahoo, or Craigslist can provide advertising at such low costs is that they don't have to pay for the journalism.

Over the past two years I've taken up this point time and again because it is very important that our society find an alternate way to pay for journalism.

But how will we pay for professional journalism if the bulk of advertising moves to search marketing?

If we don't have high quality trusted media sources we will face a future filled with a confusion of  many mini-media sources of dubious quality and trust. In such an environment misinformation will be common and will be commonly encouraged by third parties serving their needs.

Software engineers have a term for this: garbage in, garbage out. We need high quality trusted media sources so that we can make important decisions.

And we have some very important decisions to make, about global warming, energy sources, bird flu, politics, war.  Yet the financial structure to support our professional media is being taken away by low cost online services.

I've been trying to raise the alarm on this issue since I started being a "journalist blogger."  I do know that we will solve this issue, that we will figure out a business model for professional  media, but we don't have it yet.

In the meantime, our society will face a troublesome period of muddled information that will likely lead to bad decisions.
. . .

I will write more about my adventures in the blogosphere in the two years since I left the Financial Times. I had no idea that something as simple as blogging could be so interesting and lead me to so many insights and discoveries... :-)

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