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Newsweek in the Age of Digital Content

Recently I listened to an NPR interview with the new editor at Newsweek. Tina Brown, who is also editor at The Daily Beast, gave some interesting insight into her plans to merge the two ventures into a dual-platform news service of traditional print media and digital content delivery.

Said Brown, “The website breaks news — it’s a hot medium of instant gratification. The magazine then can interpret what’s happening in the world, can predict what’s happening in the world.”

I believe she is simply talking about their specific strategy for news gathering and distribution, but there is a thought process in that quote which signals there may be some deep, though common, flaws in her thinking. Certainly she is correct in saying that the internet is unparalleled in delivering breaking news, but to think that detailed long-term journalistic writing is something that is better suited for print is wrong.

I keep wanting to believe that we as a culture have evolved our thinking away from simply seeing internet content as a second class, instant gratification, bubble gum-style content medium. It should go without saying that digital content is no different than any other medium. For every Of Mice and Men there is a book on creeping by The Situation; for every “Meet the Press” there is a Bridalplasty; for every Wall Street Journal there is a New York Post. And for every Perez Hilton there is a Slate. For some reason many in the old media world tend to define internet content in terms of the lowest common denominator, a judgment not afforded to books or magazines. How’s that working out for them?

I think the problem goes deeper into a generational gap in understanding how people use digital mediums and what they expect from the experience.

I grew up at the same time the internet was maturing into what it is today. When I was 10 I had never heard of the internet. When I was 20 I was doing research for college papers solely online. Now at 27 I am working in a job that is entirely devoted to creating content online. To think that anyone under 30 or 40 expects magazines to provide long term content while ignoring that they have spent more than a decade using digital content as their primary news and opinion source rings of cognitive dissonance from an old media distributor.

The impact is more defined when you take a look at even younger generation.

I was in seventh grade the first time I sent an email. Seventh graders at that same school today will only have lived in a world with the internet, with email and for much of their lives with Facebook. To them the PlayStation 2, which came out when most of them were two or three years old, is is viewed the same way I would view the classic Nintendo: an amusing relic, an antique.

There is a gap in our understanding of the world even though we grew up in relatively the same environments. Now apply this to trying to predict what that generation will expect from the internet and we see how much further Tina Brown’s view of content is from the reality of digital content distribution.

This upcoming generation’s entire worldview of digital content has not been changed from the “norm” of traditional media: it was created in a different world and they can’t unlearn it.

Newsweek isn’t targeted to seventh graders, but seventh graders quickly become a generation of 27-year-olds. Perhaps advertisers will enjoy the dual-platform model brought on by Newsweek and The Daily Beast, but I have my doubts it will be effective long-term, or even slightly longer than short-term.

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