I have to say it’s been amazing to see Washington get almost giddy about the Ezra Klein story. Well, maybe only Washington journalists … but, still….All the stories about these ventures rightly take a wait-and-see approach as to whether we are witnessing a realignment in which those old big media companies accelerate their decline by being unable to accommodate their new media stars … or whether these new ventures will eventually founder in a grim business climate for journalism. These new models may be evanescent or central to the future. We just don’t know yet.
This is true: we don’t know yet. At the same time, no one should feel like this is something new and unprecedented. It’s the same thing that’s been happening to popular media for over a century. When radio was invented, it attracted young entrepreneurs like William Paley (using family money) and Richard Sarnoff (working his way up the ranks at RCA). The burgeoning market for middle-class reading material attracted young entrepreneurs like Henry Luce (magazines), William Randolph Hearst (newspapers), and Simon & Schuster (books). The film industry attracted young entrepreneurs like Walt Disney and Howard Hughes. Cheap four-color printing prompted Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson to start up the company that would later become DC Comics. Car culture produced car magazines. Computers produced computer magazines. Gaming produced gaming magazines. The rise of cable TV brought us CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. When politics collided with the rise of the internet, we got websites like Drudge Report, Talking Points Memo, the Huffington Post, and Politico.
Will Ezra Klein’s new venture succeed? Who knows. But I think it’s safe to say that some of these ventures will succeed, and they will indeed produce a realignment in the political media universe. They already have, after all: Fox News and Politico are probably more influential already than the entire old-guard newspaper industry combined.
Young (and some not-so-young) entrepreneurs have been reshaping popular media forever. It’s no surprise that this is continuing. What else would you expect, after all?