Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Stealing from MSM

Omphaloskepsis Warning: Blogger on blogging.

As a paragon for the ambitious blogger, The Huffington Post has stolen from the rich and given to the rich. An analysis in today's Financial Times has almost everything right. Its thrust is that THP has taken what it needed from mainstream media while keeping the counterculture features of the best blogs. It has something for everyone and has bested MSM at their own game.

The numbers hint. Consider staffing up to 43 full-timers, with nine ad reps. (I always loved the newspaper and magazine term for their job, space sales — ooo, selling space.) They work in a newspaper-style bullpen with rows of PCs.

That's fat and thin at the same time. The bigger staff now supports real news on the front. The combo blog/news monster ranks five in Technorati popularity. Yet, they are doing it with a tiny fraction of a newspaper's staff.

The best quote of the analysis was THP Technology Director Jonah Perretti's. He calls this "the mullet strategy,"
"a reference to the infamous hairstyle that features a trim front and a scraggly back: 'It’s business up front, party in the back.'"

How they can pull it off (other than being funded by extremely plugged in, very entrepreneurial and sloppy rich patrons) is telling. As the piece puts it:
While they may not have the resources or brand recognition of established newspapers, Ms Huffington and her co-founder, Kenneth Lerer, believe they have advantages. One is that they do not have to maintain an army of reporters to gather news. Another is that they are not weighed down by a legacy business. That means that they have lower costs and can afford to take risks without unnerving long-time readers.

"That’s why these big media companies were never successful at launching cable channels in the 1980s," says Mr Lerer, a former Time Warner executive. "They had to buy them, and the same thing is happening now with the internet."
Having come out of newspapers and magazines, I can add that MSM greed is seldom matched with the risk-taking attitude necessary to pull off transitions. They are notorious for being cash rich and penurious. They almost all underpay staff. Their physical costs, even of those who own presses, are much smaller than nearly any other manufacturing operations. They also have great, quick cash flow, the envy of companies who have to warehouse and ship goods, which may end up being returned. MSM will get paid for their ads, without regard to fashion and other uncontrollable variables.

MSM is often inert, slow to change, and not innovative. As a group, they are like any company or person with inherited wealth. They are terrified of screwing up their sure thing.

Arianna Huffington clearly is not. Her mullet is showing and looking good.

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