Business Insider Isn’t Destroying Journalism It’s Saving It — From Itself

Business Insider sold to Axel Springer at a $442 million valuation because of great pioneering work by Henry Blodget, Joe Weisenthal, John Carney and others, but the success of BI is also the result of traditional business media failing to reach millennials — who refuse to read yesterday’s news printed on dead trees.

On Bloomberg Surveillance this morning Mike McKee asked Joe Weisenthal, in effect, if Business Insider and other digital news outlets could survive in the long term, if their business model effectively cannibalizes the very news organizations that produce original journalism. It’s an excellent question. The answer is that new and old media are not at war — but will collaborate to reshape the future of journalism for the following three reasons:

1) The presentation layer & distribution of journalism is changing faster than old media can shift their model of the world. Business Insider and other new media publishers have exploited new technology — social media, live streaming mobile video, live blogging, animation, and a ballsy style of guerrilla journalism that’s a retro hat tip to the heyday of Hunter S. Thompson. Digital media has gotten inside the decision cycle of Big Media — and the genie isn’t going back into the bottle.

If readers — especially millennials — didn’t want Business Insider they wouldn’t be flocking there in droves.  While the New York Times, The Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal continue to produce extremely high quality journalism, they’ve been colossally behind the curve for decades in the way their content is presented and distributed. Traditional media has gotten better — they have embraced digital by necessity — but they are still playing a tremendous game of catchup. (And why wouldn’t they be? Market leaders don’t volunteer to disrupt themselves.)  If a long, investigative newspaper article meanders without purpose, Business Insider will mercilessly slice & dice the article and cut to what is most essential.  If you don’t give your audience what they want, someone else will — and now more so than ever before, since the cost of disruptive innovation is within reach of everyone with an iPhone.

2) Leveraging excerpts from the core journalism that traditional media organizations produce — with proper attribution and linking — is a virtue not a vice. Digital journalists don’t hate old media: We love it. In fact, we love it so much that we spend our lives immersed in it — trying to fix and modernize the presentation layer and distribution to make it relevant to a new generation. (Millennials reading BI on their iPads instead of playing Candy Crush is something every journalist should celebrate.) Time is the scarcest commodity any of us possess: When bloggers create Cliffs Notes to the news, they are responding to a legitimate audience demand. This flowering diversity in journalism is a virtuous cycle that all the players in the space can ride upward — if they adapt to change and add value for their audience.

3) Finally, traditional medial and new media are increasingly combining, cooperating, and partnering in innovative ways. The best and brightest of both worlds will pass seamlessly between both spheres.  Traditional media has no choice but to increasingly adapt to the digital world’s presentation and distribution models; and, as digital media becomes more mainstream, the vaunted journalistic values and standards of big name broadsheet journalism will be incorporated into the best of the digital world. If those at the vanguard of traditional and new media make enlightened decisions, embrace change, and create value for their audiences by bold innovation, the future is very bright indeed.

Postscript: As I look over what I’ve written, I realize that I’ve just explained why I accepted an offer to take over Roubini EconoMonitor as Editor-in-Chief: Our new website is launching shortly.