Shift Happens and Then You Reboot

The Lows of 2008, the highs of 2012 and the lows of 2016.

It will be the best of times and then the worst of times. There is procession and then retrograde.

The year of reckoning is upon us.

Lots of whispers and murmurs in the media world are talking about 2016 as the year that the newest class (or cycle) of media startups are going to feel a squeeze.

In this class is Fusion, Mashable, Vox, Vocativ, Ozy and more. Even Buzzfeed and Vice, which are safely above any watermark, could get hit in the valuation department. Let’s not even go into “is this a tech bubble” in general.

In the “entrepreneurial journalism” space, if you aren’t growing, you’re immediately dying somehow. Anything that bleeds from the entrepreneur space, does so into the larger industry.

Startups that don’t succeed as businesses might succeed within the larger community. Sometimes they are acquired, but sometimes their practices and principles get adopted and absorbed.

I put the original Circa in this category. Even though it failed as a business, the ideas it pushed forth have inspired action at places like the NYT and the BBC. Little fish get eaten by bigger fish. That’s just what happens.

But the main take-away:

If value is based on rate of growth — then even if you have a HUGE audience, you’re dead in the water if that rate of growth slows.

Look no further than Twitter. It has over 320 MILLION users. And yet because growth is slow, its valuation is dropping.

Now you’re Buzzfeed. Now you’re Buzzfeed Japan. Now you’re Buzzfeed India. etc.

But I digress……

The Pendulum forever swings

In 2008 the news industry was in a panic. The upstart Huffington Post was at its metaphorical height. They were young, brash and blazing the trail.

The pendulum swung all the way left. At the height of the “fear” end was old media. On the inner edge of the metronome was “new media.” It never reached the tippy top panic state. After all, what was failing was old media. Sure, the right edge was pulled along with them, but they were the valuable side, the side that was going to lead the pull back to the right. Back to the Bull market.

By 2012 the Huffington Post had swung to become establishment. It was still cool, don’t get me wrong. But a new wave of upstarts were about to rage onto the scene.

By 2016 some of the tricks that the Huffington Post defined are being refined by the Washington Post. They bring you — Bandito!

If you aren’t growing, you’re dying. And if you’re dying — the best practices and principles you have to offer are going to be absorbed.

Related: How defensible is viral content?

Once the old media has absorbed your life-force, the pendulum begins to swing back.

I tell my students at the Berkeley J-school: “Don’t worry, you will all get a job.” I can see the stress in their eyes.

But if you take a long enough timeline — this constant swing back and forth is for the better. It’s what propels us ever forward. There is a “normalcy” zone we hit with every back-and-forth. And it’s in that zone where progress can really be measured. Where we can see the practices from the new we as a community and industry are absorbing and those practices we are protecting during the panic, to ensure their survival.

“On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.” It’s how we take a longer view of our industry that will propel us forward.