Back in the late 90s, Jason Chervokas and I briefly worked on a book proposal we tentatively entitled "No Media." Our contention was that the global network would eventually devalue the existing media universe to the point of its near-disappearance. We believed that the evolution of the Web and the growth of DIY "content" - a word we both came to loathe - would explode the market for expensive, professional news stories, music, movies, television....the works. I think we were partly right, and it was somewhat ironic to see mention in David Carr's dark death-of-media Times column of the very vehicle we used to test some of those ideas at the time.
In the late days of our involvement with @NY, the newsletter and website we founded in 1995 and sold to Alan Meckler in 1999, Jason and I were recruited to work on a start-up media project called Inside. It was a print magazine (we wrote the end-paper column), a website, a media trade-pub community - and it was more than half a decade before its time.
Inside was the brainchild of Michael Hirschorn, Deanna Brown and Kurt Andersen - an all-star team of media veterans hell-bent on creating the, well, inside venue for the whole media industry during its incipient period of turmoil. It was funded by Flatiron Partners and our friends Fred Wilson and Jerry Colonna and it was a great, but sadly brief, writing gig - we wrote about subjects we were interested in and were paid very well. Here's how Carr places the Inside story (it failed within a year and was sold off to Steve Brill, who didn't do much with the carcass) into the narrative of the dying professional media landscape:
That feeling of age, of a coming sunset, is tough to avoid in all corners of traditional publishing. Earlier in November, the New York comptroller said that employment in communications in New York had lost 60,000 jobs since 2000, a year when the media industry here seemed at the height of its powers.
I arrived in New York that same year as part of Inside.com, a digital news site conceived to cover a media space that was converging and morphing into something wholly new. The site covered the mainstream media’s efforts to come to grips with new realities and efforts by new players to cash in on emerging technology.
Few of us could have conceived that in the next decade some of the reigning titans of media would be routed. Profligate dot-com ad money that had fattened print went away in a digital wipeout, and when digital media came back, it was to dine on the mainstream media rather than engorge it. After 2000, jobs in traditional media industries declined at a rate of about 2.5 percent annually and then went into a dive in 2008 or so. (Inside.com, an idea before its time — hey, let’s charge for high-quality, business-oriented content — disappeared after about 18 months.)
That carnage has left behind an island of misfit toys, trains whose cabooses have square wheels and bird fish who are trying to swim in thin air. The skills that once commanded $4 for every shiny word are far less valuable at a time when the supply of both editorial and advertising content more or less doubles every year.
Carr tries to lift his depressing tale at the end with the observation that the young and media-ambitious are still coming to New York to find their futures - and that they will invent a new future. That may be so, but I suspect that it will continue to be a world in which the market for "content" remains almost infinite - thereby generally devaluing its creation. I kinda wish we'd written that book after all.