Profit, media and the Web can, will co-exist

What if the Web and social media are just a Ponzi scheme? The thought’s crossed many a mind, surely, even if just in momentary frustration.

Profitability is a tough slog online, seemingly tougher and less predictable than print — or what print was. For all the billion-dollar success stories, there are labors of love and failed ventures big, small and smaller. Content demands to be free but expansive and advertising is still often reliant on old, disproven Web 1.0 ways of display.

But what is the alternative? Not investing in digital and social media? That’s the answer people are apparently still proposing, and Strange Attractor recently noted how that behavior creates a “self-fulfilling prophecy” of failure. The blog notes two examples of print publications with significant legacies diving headlong into the new reality: The Christian Science Monitor, whose online potential amid editing disasters I’ve noted, and the Atlantic.

Why is the future still look difficult for publishers and editing, though?
Well, I think, it’s because the budgets and scales are greatly reduced in all areas, not just in the print-crippling production costs. That will naturally lead to more-focused content, which is good, but content that becomes less general and more specific — and possibly arcane, technical or weighty — should require more-careful editing.

That editing, of course, will be difficult to accomplish given the speed of news reporting, reduced budgets and staff, and a simultaneous glut of generalist editors and copy editors and shortage of specialized editors. Finding a balance may take years, if it ever arrives.

There’s not a lot of immediate, concrete advice I can offer. But I can reiterate, many times over, that looking back is not the way to go. The Web will eventually lead to more money, possibly aided by unconventional or new revenue streams and the increase in digital natives willing to put their lives, trust and wallets into the online world’s hands, and at least some of the profiteers will espouse editorial quality and editing — and hire for it.

As for those editors, they will (have to) be far more dynamic than the what was called for in the classic job description.