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The sorry state of internet news

I am likely to step on a few toes here. Don’t worry, though, because whatever seems like an accusation of the Internet and social media marketing “news” industry applies to me as well. In other words, I ain’t perfect. What I am, however, is a little frustrated. I have been “reporting” on the Internet and social media marketing space for the better part of four years now. That doesn’t make me a wily Internet veteran, although I was working in the space during the first bubble burst all those years ago. What does give me a bit of a “leg up” on many in the space is the added 20 or so years of business experience I have wrapped around my Internet experience.

So what, you say? That’s fair. But considering this is an industry occupied primarily by young adults just barely out of college or, at the very most, at the beginning of their business careers, there should be merit applied to life experience. My experience is not standard fare either. If you would like to learn about my past and present (if you know about my future please contact me immediately in private), you can check out my LinkedIn profile.

My point here is this. I have watched over the past few years as the substance of Internet news has gone from a “we really want to be like other business journalists” to “we need to get traffic” to “Let’s write a sensationalistic headline and worry about substance later” mindset. I don’t find this as progress but rather more like devolution.

So who’s to blame? There is no one particular factor but rather a mix of factors that have varying degrees of impact depending on who or what you are talking about. Some of the major contributors to this relative decline in quality are (in no particular order) money, lack of time, SEO, lack of experience, hype and the list goes on and on.

Money is the root of all evil, right? Actually that is the popular yet completely inaccurate rendering of a Bible verse where the apostle Paul wrote in 1Timothy 6:10 that “The LOVE of money is the root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (emphasis added). The Internet industry, like any industry really, loves money. The trouble is that this love of money has watered down and even dumbed down the level of coverage of the industry. Today it’s OK to aggregate and curate content and ideas without truly discussing the application of the concepts. That leads to poor understanding which ultimately leads to poor execution. We see a lot of that around these days (and yes I am guilty as charged in many instances). It’s the industry’s version of TV’s “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. All sizzle, no steak.

Add to that the lack of time. Information is flying through the online space at breakneck speeds. No one can manage it, let alone absorb it all. It’s just not possible. As a result, we reach for what is convenient and what seems interesting. We are serving up the Internet and social media marketing equivalent of fast or junk food. Internet news empty calories that are put in shiny wrappers claiming the “5 Best This” or “10 Hottest That.” In the end, it leaves the reader out of shape and seeking true nourishment.

But enough grousing, right? What can we do to make this better? Well, I think it is quite simple actually. We need to slow down and get real. Stop playing headline-of-the-day journalism and provide real value to our readers. Often that comes from not chasing the latest fad but actually digging into the basics. Not in a “look at my latest list of things you couldn’t possibly do but really need to!” way, either. Succeeding is about doing the basics as best as you possibly can and then building on that experience. By helping people to slow down and manage the fundamentals, there will be real chance to apply the latest bells and whistles in a meaningful fashion that falls to the bottom line.

We should keep the Chicken Little talk to a minimum. Nothing that happens today is likely to impact anything in the short term. It may cause you to change course so you can avoid a potential issue but there is little news that would make your or any business just grind to a halt at the very moment it happens. Take the example of the introduction of the latest iPad or cool Android phone. Some people react very quickly and change their approach on a dime based on these events, but that’s just chasing the wind. How many people have gone after the latest fad without thinking it through? Too many–and the Internet press has plenty to do with that, because we make people feel unhip or uncool if they are not doing the latest and greatest thing.

I learned about the impact of Chicken Little in Tim Sanders’ book, Today, We Are Rich. This book was given to me by a dear friend and it has helped me like none other. I usually don’t gush over these things but this is not a self-help, quick-fix read. No, in fact, it’s a no-nonsense look at being grown up and having confidence. I highly recommend it.

And lastly, we need to look to business experience as something of value rather than something that is “old school.” You know how people look to find the rare combination of engineer who can also speak to someone? Well, the same is holding true in the Internet and social media space. Where the real value is comes from someone who knows the Internet and can take their experience to properly apply new techniques to real world situations in a way that will move the conversation forward (another idea from the book I mentioned).

All in all, there is hope. That hope, however, comes in the form of doing a 180 from our current direction of hype and meaningless page views. My question is, are we willing?

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