The Changing Face of Online Journalism is Driving Valid Sites Into Extinction?

Recently a fellow webmaster confided to made that it was shutting down his site as he would become frustrated with having to battle for traffic against mega-corporate sites that were backed by billions of dollars.
He confided to me that they were doing well over 1 million visitors a year and that had fallen to approximately 10,000 as they have lost many of their press contacts as well as had to deal with the ever-changing dynamics of online journalism.

As someone who is rather website for over nine years and spent nearly 7 years prior to that contributing to many websites and publications I certainly understand his frustrations.

I remember in the early days the Internet or money flowed to those who could provide reviews and other content sites. It was, to be paid $100-$200 per review as well as more for interviews and advertising placement.

Studios rained product upon you hoping to garner favorable reviews and take advantage of this emerging form of promotion and marketing.

Sadly when the dot com bubble burst many companies and websites were unable to adapt and vanished. I recently spoke with another webmaster about all of the sites that were around when we first started our online work. I noted how of the 50+ sites and publications that I contributed to less than a dozen remain active today and many of them do not have nearly the content or the amount of updates that they used to.

He two agreed with me that it’s difficult for independent sites to go up against billion-dollar companies who have teams of writers and tech experts who dominate the marketplace. I cited my concern for this as certainly outlets that dominate the review landscape are heavily dependent upon advertising from the very companies they are supposed to be reviewing fairly and objectively.

I noted the hypocrisy of a company supposedly giving a fair and unbiased review of a product whose parent company has spent thousands of dollars on ad placement. One knows you do not bite the hand that feeds you and regardless of traffic, if your reviews constantly show a product in a bad light than how likely is the parent company to continue to invest in your website.

A further issue we discovered was that mega-sites can essentially create news when there is none simply to drive traffic to their site by means of an anonymous report.

While mega-sites are not alone in doing this, when one of them reports a story they also tend to hold the hammer of syndication which often requires other sites to jump on board or be left in the dust.

For example if a site reports that there’s a new Star Wars film coming based on an anonymous report, other sites quickly fall into place and credit the site and carry the story even though they know it’s likely to be false. The reason for this is that few sites can take the chance that this likely wild rumor may indeed be true.
Publications know this and often times rumors and wishful thinking are posted simply to set the gears of fandom and motion and drive traffic to the site.

It seems odd that one of the basis of reporting that was drilled into us in college is missing. Many sites have to resort to tabloid reporting in order to get traffic. The days of being impartial, objective, and accurate have long vanished in favor of being first and grabbing headline.

Years ago I broke the news that “Alien vs Predator”, would get a PG-13 rating. I was flamed for a week and a half by numerous people who cited other sites and reports as fact. I stated that I had talked to a studio rep and I reported the information as they had passed it along to me. I was also the first to post the release from the studio rep which confirmed it and yet many people still call me a liar and sent profanity laden e-mails to my inbox at an unending rate. Only when the commercials with the rating in place aired two days later did I get the vindication that my report was correct.

This time a valuable lesson as many publications in individuals who were quick to throw venom vanished when it was time to accurately credit the source of the news as some even tried to pass the news off as their own exclusive story. Thanks to time stamping this is quickly invalidated and I look it back at it as a key point of our site and that when we break news you can rest assured it is as accurate as we can possibly make it and it has been verified by more than one source.

I digress but the point I was trying to make is that integrity is out the window as the almighty hit count is the real driving factor behind online journalism.

Many journalists now have to create content that will appease aggregate and syndication sites as independents now rely on sites such as to have their content approved and syndicated.

The webmaster said the constant effort to market and rely upon others to carry his work as well as the frustrations with trying to procure ad revenue in this day and age is what in the end drove his website away.
I countered that in many ways this is the ebb and flow of the industry. I’ve seen numerous sites rise and then fall simply because after a while the revenue isn’t what they wanted to be or they decide to move on to new challenges.

In the end the sites who stay committed to the task at hand of delivering the news, and keeping politics to a minimum are the ones who will ultimately survive.

I did not get into this business to crush the competition and gain millions of dollars in ad revenue. I got into it through a love of film and games and a desire to challenge myself by creating a media outlet that would grow an endure but above all provide honest and entertaining reviews and articles that was not in the pocket of any corporation so we were free to report the news as we saw fit.

Sure the mega-sites may dominate much of the ad revenue streams, but by creatively and accurately marketing yourself and your site there are ways to succeed. In addition to the website, I regularly appear on radio and speak at conventions throughout the country. Some webmasters try to make themselves a celebrity when the key truly is to simply be yourself and let your personality connect with fans. There is a lot to be said for taking the time and effort to travel to a city to meet the fans up close. I enjoy being able to talk to a room full of people about my passions and to be able to convey to people the news and rumors in a forum where hit counts, ad revenue, and circulation for couple of hours mean nothing. It is extremely rewarding to be able to meet people in person and get an interaction that you often cannot get online. There are a lot of fans out there that grew up on the original Star Trek who find themselves intimidated with the Internet. Yet year after year they will fill a packed auditorium to hear me talk about games and movies which for me is one of the most rewarding experiences of my job.

Any time someone comes to our site, gets a magazine, comes to a panel, or tunes in catch me on the radio I consider it a victory. Whether it is 1000, 10,000, 100,000, or more is a simple validation that someone finds which are doing worthwhile enough to take the time out of their busy schedule to support you by reading or listening to your content.