All of us at GigaOM and our sister site paidContent are into the final planning stages for our big media show on May 23 — paidContent 2012: At The Crossroads. As paidContent editor and conference chair Staci Kramer has described in her posts leading up to the conference, we’re going to be looking at a wide range of topics related to the disruption in the media industry, from newspapers to e-books, with a great lineup of speakers including Media News Group CEO Jim Paton, Vox Media founder Jim Bankoff and Pottermore CEO Charlie Redmayne. I’m looking forward to all of those sessions, but I’m also really looking forward to the two I’m moderating: an interview with Union Square Ventures partner and Twitter investor Fred Wilson and a panel with Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall and Vivian Schiller of NBC News.
More than perhaps anyone else, Fred Wilson has been ahead of the curve when it comes to the potential of social media such as Twitter as a disruptive force both for the web and for traditional media as a whole — a track record that arguably began many years ago with his investment in GeoCities, an early web community that was acquired by Yahoo in 1999 for $3.57 billion. Since then, Wilson and Union Square have invested in a number of other prominent social networking players, including Zynga, design community Etsy.com, Foursquare, MeetUp and of course Twitter.
While Wilson hasn’t invested in anything that is specifically focused on media, you could argue (and I have) that Twitter is getting awfully close to being a media entity, if it isn’t already. Although virtually all of its content is produced by users, Twitter still has media-like aspects, including the ability to censor tweets if necessary. More recently, the company has been adding “curation”-type features thanks in part to its acquisition of Summify, and also hiring editors to create editorial products with partners, such as the one Twitter just announced with Nascar.
The Union Square partner has also said that the world of technology and the world of media need to figure out how to help each other, and I’m looking forward to asking him more about what he means by that. In a blog post, he confessed to being a reluctant pirate when it comes to trying to watch certain sporting events that he couldn’t find legal access to — so I’d like to know how he would advise media companies to handle traditional functions like time-based “windowing” and geo-blocking in a digital era.
What’s the impact of real-time media on politics?
On the political front, we’ve seen over the past year or so how the real-time nature of the social web can play havoc with political campaigns and spin doctors. Not only can the candidates themselves post their thoughts on Twitter or Facebook — an example of what web veteran and blogging pioneer Dave Winer has called “the sources going direct” — but those comments can snowball to the point where they take over the entire political agenda, as Hilary Rosen’s remarks about Mitt Romney’s wife being a stay-at-home mother did just a few weeks ago.
Whether this is a positive thing or a negative thing for the broader political and social sphere is something I’m planning to ask Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo and Vivian Schiller, the head of digital for NBC News and the former CEO of National Public Radio. Are we just seeing a more high-speed version of the same spin cycle we’ve seen for years, or has social media changed the balance of power for the better? What is the impact of meme-trackers such as BuzzFeed, which has added a lot of political firepower with former Politico writer Ben Smith and others, or The Huffington Post (whose co-founder Jonah Peretti is also at paidContent 2012)?
One thing we know for sure is that the world has changed in some fundamental ways thanks to the power of the web and of social media like Twitter: since anyone can be a publisher or a journalist — even for a short time — with the push of a button, we now have an unprecedented ability to see and hear what is happening in places like Tahrir Square in Egypt or Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Politicians like former deputy British prime minister Lord Prescott say Twitter gives them “a connection to millions” without having to go through the “distorted prism” of the traditional media.
What the future holds for media companies and for society as a whole remains to be seen, but there’s no question we are going through a time of almost unprecedented disruption. I’m looking forward to hearing what Fred Wilson, Josh Marshall and Vivian Schiller — and all of the other great speakers at paidContent 2012 — have to say about that future. Please join me at the Times Center in New York on Wednesday, May 23.