There’s been a lot of movement in media circles of late — what with writers like Ezra Klein, Nate Silver and Jessica Lessin leaving traditional journalism jobs to launch their own standalone news outlets — so it didn’t come as much of a surprise that Reuters financial blogger Felix Salmon might decide to part ways with the media giant. But where he chose to go did come as kind of a shock: he said Wednesday that he is joining the Fusion cable channel, a joint venture between ABC and Univision that is aimed at the millennial market.
At 42, Salmon is hardly a millennial, and to my knowledge he hasn’t shown much interest in the past in appealing to the Hispanic market, which makes up the core of Univision’s business model. And apart from a somewhat lackluster foray into TV programming while he was at Reuters, his oeuvre has consisted mostly of long-form blog posts about either the stock market or the ongoing disruption in the media industry. So why a TV channel like Fusion?
In a blog post at Medium, Salmon said he is joining the channel because he believes that the future of media is “post text” — meaning everything from traditional video to animation, interactive digital features, and so on. As he described it:
“The core of what I do at Fusion will be post-text. Text has had an amazing run, online, not least because it’s easy and cheap to produce. When it comes to digital storytelling, however, the possibilities — at least if you have the kind of resources that Fusion has — are much, much greater.”
Appealing to millennials
Because Fusion is a new entity, and one aimed at a relatively new market of millennials, Salmon suggests that it can do things more traditional broadcasters and digital outlets can’t, whether that’s covering topics the mainstream media doesn’t, or covering them in ways mainstream outlets don’t (and that includes shows like “No, You Shut Up!,” which features a panel of puppets arguing with a human host about a topic). Salmon told the NYT:
“The reason why I am going to Fusion is that they have the ability to help me communicate in the ways that people are going to consume information in the future. Which is not 1,500-word blocks of text.”
Much of what Fusion does seems to take an irreverent approach that is similar to the way BuzzFeed approaches serious news topics — or even to Vice magazine, another non-traditional media outlet that is trying to reach millennials and younger audiences on their own terms, and particularly digital terms. According to media insiders, Fusion also happens to be one of the channels that Al Jazeera America is watching the most closely as a competitor.
The other aspect of Salmon’s decision that comes across very clearly, both in his own post and the New York Times story about his departure, is that Reuters was no longer a place where he could find any interest in experimenting with different forms of media — or, apparently, much support for allowing his content to appear in non-Reuters locations such as Medium or Politico, something that Salmon did with his writing fairly regularly. As he put it:
“I’m not sure how much I’ll write on Fusion’s website, or even whether I’ll write on Fusion’s website. There might well be other platforms where it’s easier and more effective for me to reach my audience of wonks, finance people, media people, and the like.”
Traffic-based media is a dead end
On a related note, Salmon suggested that part of the reason he decided to leave was that he had become frustrated at working for a site that was driven primarily by the need to boost traffic or pageviews, because of a reliance on traffic-based advertising. A TV network like Fusion, he suggested, has the luxury of a revenue source that is much larger than any text-based media outlet could ever be — even one run by a financial-news giant like Reuters — and that gives it the freedom to experiment.
“Most excitingly for me, the raison d’être of Fusion’s digital operation is not to get lots of unique visitors to Fusion’s website, who can then be sold to digital advertisers. That’s a tough business to be in, and is not particularly remunerative, in a world of falling CPMs.”
Is the future of media “post text?” Perhaps in a way it is. Certainly more than it used to be, although if it is completely non-textual, then the financial backers of word-heavy sites like Klein’s Vox and Silver’s FiveThirtyEight have made a very bad bet. But there’s no question that news consumers of today seem to prefer explanations of world events that use animated GIFs or short video snippets like the ones NowThisNews is staking its future on.
Does that mean text is over? Has it “had a good run,” as Felix puts it, only to be doomed to the scrap-heap of history? I hope not — but then I am a writer. My own view is that video and audio and animations have a lot to offer when it comes to understanding the news, but words still have an incredible power. I hope Felix doesn’t give them up for good.
Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / olly and Shutterstock / DmitrisK