In a way the news that NBC is launching a new coverage vertical focused on media technology is kind of disappointing. The additional beat is being added because, as a CNN exec says, it’s not just Los Angeles and New York but San Francisco and Seattle that are major media hubs.
This kind of attention is all well and good, but it’s naturally going to gravitate toward the current roster of big players who are already based in those locations. New startups seeking coverage will then either opt to launch in those cities or relocate there to be close to the media who provide the coverage they need to be successful. It’s the same self-perpetuating cycle we’ve already seen with tech and social media.
The problem is that we’ve already seen tech companies like those this new vertical will cover gain outsized control over what media reaches the public. The influence of Facebook and Twitter for good and ill has been well-covered, even while those and other companies will shrug and hide behind the “we’re not a media company” canard. They’ve gotten away with being black-box operations for so long there’s little incentive for anyone to come along with a more transparent approach.
That’s a big shift from the decentralized web of 12 or 15 years ago, before Facebook began its rise to dominance. By managing their own blogs and not relying on artificial gatekeepers, people were able to exert some control and change the face of media. The blog revolution brought new and vital voices to the forefront. Facebook and others have shoved them right back down, limiting exposure unless you played their game by their own ever-shifting sets of rules.
I’m not going to hold out hope that this or other efforts are going to actually pull the curtain on the companies who are defining our media consumption and by extension our society. The last year has afforded plenty of opportunities to do so without creating whole new ventures. Instead my fear is that this is going to consist of the same obsequious coverage that permeates politics, sports and entertainment, where reporters focus on high-level executive shifts and over-hype new developments while not poking too deeply lest they lose their access.
As more companies flock to these new centers of power, those outside will see their fate defined by a very few, which isn’t much better than it was in the days before blogs. Putting the media at their doorstep will only hasten the speed at which the big get bigger and the rest are left by the wayside.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.