August 14, 2007|
Last week The New York Time purchased [clarification: the paper is, as Jeff Jarvis notes, "hosting it, selling ads on it, promoting it, but not buying it or hiring its creators"] the sometimes irreverent Freakonomics blog run by University of Chicago economist Dr. Steven Levitt and writer Stephen Dubner. Clearly the newspaper saw that this informative blog had a community worth transplanting to its web site.
Was it a brave move to purchase a blog that isn't control by NYT staffers? Yes, especially since Leavitt pondered about how to maximize a terrorist attack — commenters went wild –shortly after his blog switched over to nytimes.com.
However, buying a blog is another example of how old media organizations are missing the point. Old media companies should focus on fostering innovative new media properties themselves and not simply purchasing them when it makes
sense cents. [Update: While partnering with a blog like Freakonomics is definitely a wise move, it doesn't take place of the need for in-house innovation.]
As we've observed here at The Bivings Group, newspapers and their traditional media counterparts seem schizophrenic when it comes to new media. They want to succeed but are unwilling to allow their employees to do what it takes.
In fact, sometimes their current employees won't cut it as The Economist's Project Red Stripe proves. In this case, employees were given time, resources, and freedom to create something new and extraordinary but, as Jeff Jarvis explains, failed to capture the new media or web 2.0 vision perhaps since they came from a traditional background.
BBC News, in contrast, hired Ben Hammersley — who has a new media background and is young enough that he isn't bogged down by the old media model — to launch its multi platform social media reporting on non-BBC sites. Will this idea succeed? I don't know, but in this case the organization is trying and testing to develop its own new media project instead of buying one. Hopefully, the Beeb will continue to allow social media savvy folk like Hammersley and its Director of Global News Richard Sambrook to experiment.
If old media companies want to truly tap into and succeed in the new media world, they need to rethink their strategy. Instead of buying successful blogs, podcasts, or social networks, perhaps they should either hire or reassign people who are new media innovators and give them freedom to develop a successful product.
Further, it is likely cheaper to hire people than acquire established products and brands. [Update: Perhaps a partnership, as in the case with the Freakonomics blog, is cheaper, but this can come at an expense when the deal ends if The New York Times hasn't found a way to build new features and communities around Leavitt and Dubner's genius.]