Why Medium’s layoffs coverage reflects media’s skewed barometer of news

Technology media, like media in general, in more recent times has always been happy to jump on the populist news bandwagon. The more consumer news is easy to cover, especially if it involves a billionaire founder, a sizzling platform and lots of venture capital. It generates a lot of attention. A perfect example is the recent story around the Medium layoffs and the company’s strategy shift, which if I were to bet, I would say will probably be centered around subscriptions.
Personally, I want Medium and everyone in the world who brings good writing to the forefront, to succeed. I also know startups are hard and building a business harder, especially a media business. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some of this early January negativity spread across the larger digital media landscape. But that’s a topic for another day!

Back to the point of why I started writing this piece to begin with: when checking out Techmeme this morning, I was amazed by the amount of energy and words spent on the same news. Almost everyone, including the mighty New York Times, regurgitated what Ev Williams wrote in his blog post. Churnalism at its finest! Some of their partners have been left twisting in the wind. Too bad people don’t learn that when you are tilling someone else’s land, you are essentially at their whim and fancy. Facebook Apps, Twitter API, is there a need to go on? I shed no tears for those who don’t learn from past mistakes.

There are those wringing their hands now — I mean professional media writers saying what the hell were you doing for all these years, believing that there is an elixir out there to save us from the curse of fractional pennies for your attention? Shouldn’t the questions about the business model for the company have been asked a long time ago, and not yesterday? Oh, never mind.

And the very same media pundits are not asking the question that really matters — what about the users, who bought into Medium! What do they think and what do they want! “Medium pivots, a big story in the tech press, but the reports center on the company and the publishers, but little focus on the users and their interests,” Dave Winer writes.

Whether you are a startup, a media company, or any business, you need people who put the needs of your entity first. Outsiders always have divided loyalties and their own priorities. It is common sense and admittedly, I lost mine and took the easy way out to work with a third-party advertising network to handle GigaOm sales in the early days. That was an expensive mistake, but we learned and moved forward. Kottke puts it best when he writes: “With kottke.org, even though it hasn’t been easy, I’ve opted for independence and control over a potential rocket ship ride.”

In the larger scheme of things, this is just a blip, despite a disproportionate amount of attention and coverage. I get it — who wants to eat veggies when there is steaming hot pizza right in front you. But that doesn’t mean you should eat pizza all the time. What is going to have a large impact on our society is getting very little attention. Take this news around how large internet service providers have launched their assault on privacy rules. These rules were passed by the FCC last year.

In other words, your Internet Service Providers, which includes Comcast, Charter and Cox want to sniff your traffic — geolocation data, browsing data and even emails (ala Google) and use that to do the most abhorring of all things: advertising. That is in addition to charging us an increasing amount of money every month for Internet access in the first place. Not to mention these are the same crummy players who push through sneaky fees and promotions into consumers bills — a problem so big that even the Senate got involved in it.

This is and shouldn’t be a partisan issue — it is a problem that impacts all of us. If anything, the ISPs should be regulated even more tightly and need a stiffer set of rules. They are making ample money from their monopolies to be left alone to pillage consumers wallets even more. Just as I think Google has become so big to be left alone to sniff our digital (and increasingly private lives) unchecked, without any clarity and transparency.

But back to my original point — the technology industry at this point is dealing with bigger issues that deserve more attention and coverage — especially larger publications. For the technology sector’s own media, most of the privacy challenges and other shenanigans of the Internet Service Providers and technology giants can limit the potential of new ideas. Instead of bemoaning layoffs at Medium and celebrating connected-boxers (not pugilists with smartphones), perhaps it is time to write about what matters in the long-term.

January 5, 2017. San Francisco

Letter from Om

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