Regression

Ryan Holiday wrote an incisive piece on Medium about the death of Google Reader. This part, comparing Yellow Journalism to the way RSS feeders died in favor of push broadcast/ad-driven practices, really rings true for me:

The lack of “subscription”—in any form—creates what I termed the "One Off Problem” in my book Trust Me I’m Lying. In the desperate daily fight for traffic, every online article and headline has to compete for attention against the many millions of other headlines out there—whether it's on Google News or our Facebook feeds. And it was this exact kind of endless shouting to be heard a century ago (in that case, by newsboys on street corners) that defined yellow journalism and caused its many tragedies.

So often in J-school yellow journalism was pointed out as an era that was dead and gone, something that we could compare ourselves to, to show how much more special and advanced we were. I worry that this attitude leaves us doomed to repeat history, and simultaneously that most editors aren't prepared to produce content that can stand up to the melee - they're still producing as if context in a print layout and hierarchy is the only context they'll have to deal with. Homepages are treated as the equivalent layout when most people just aren't consuming content that way. Analytics of how people actually use the site help, but often are relegated to an "IT" concern, not an editorial issue, and it's a tool that journalists aren't often taught how to use.

On the bright side, this piece offers a clear manifesto in the other direction:

An editor or writer who gets to file her copy into the system and forget about is an editor who is being alienated, in the most Marxist possible way, from the fruits of their labor. That journalist has lost contact with his or her consumer. Editors need to help craft the way their content gets presented to their readers. They themselves don’t have to be designers, coders or even, strictly speaking, ticket-moving product managers. They do need to have a seat at the same table as those other people, and explain the way their content will be most valuable, come to consensus, and then work with those other colleagues to help spec out, design, build and release the code that can bring that value to the reader.

The element left out of all of this is the reality that we've yet to monetize the free subscription model that RSS promoted, and that tension is harmful to how organizations think of subscriptions. Good content needs funding and they don't know how to fund it yet with one catch-all reader eliminating the usual money channels.

Paying to eliminate the noise - paid subscriptions - may yet work, but I've yet to see a reader where paid subscriptions could sit next to free blogs.

As someone who buys print magazine subscriptions and then totally ignores the 'digital' version because online time is for my feeds, I know that would encourage me to buy and spend time with all of my news in one place. The New York Times and New Yorker would automatically be things I'd pay for to see in my feeds, and a bunch of other sites - I'd love to get National Geographic, longform pieces from Esquire and GQ, extras from the Economist and FP. Somewhere between Apple's Newsstand and Google Reader might be a solution for me. I hope I'm not alone. Anyone up for a startup?