Don’t Take a Flying Leap

Here’s a little insight in the tech industry. Many Internet professionals are really smart. And really creative. And really cool. But they’re not $2 billion smart. Or $5 billion creative. Or $10 billion cool.

The money tsunami that has swept over our industry has inflated the perception of those who operate within it. (I’ve dipped my toes in that wave so I’m not complaining.)

Here’s what tech people are really good at:

Tech.

Because tech happens to be at the center of a financial and cultural revolution, the people who have been talented and fortunate enough to make to the apex of the industry are perceived as oracles of industry; every industry.

But building a really successful app or site does not mean you know more about education than educators. Disrupting the photo-sharing space does not qualify you to disrupt higher education. Or to understand the health system better than doctors. Or to understand the woes of urban poverty better than those who have spent a career on those corners.

But a lot of people think it does.

And I worry that the reported plan by major news organizations to let Facebook host their sites’ content is an example of that false belief. As the NYT’s Ravi Somaiya, Mike Isaac and Vindu Goel explain:

Such a plan would represent a leap of faith for news organizations accustomed to keeping their readers within their own ecosystems

News organizations should not take that leap of faith. They should not trust Facebook to deliver the news anymore than Facebook should fear their ability to build a competing social network.

Yes, Facebook has built a large and powerful network. But they do not know how to run the news business better than editors, journalists and publishers. And they don’t have the same goals.

Technology has shaken old media to its core. I get that. But they can and must figure out how to deliver content to their readers without ceding the last mile to people who know better about their own business, but who do not know better about what’s best for the news business.

The most difficult part of the transition from old media to new is over. It was plenty bloody and there are still many open wounds to suture. But this is not the time to give up and it’s not the time to give in to one of the most prevalent myths of the era: that people who can build technology know how to run your business better than you do.

That idea is ripe for disruption.

Like many writers, I’ve always wanted to write a column for the New York Times. I’ve never wanted to write a column for Facebook.


Dave Pell writes the NextDraft App and Newsletter. He hosts the content himself.

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