Why do media companies struggle to produce anything of value?

It’s the absolute best economy the United States has seen in decades, and yet, you wouldn’t know it from looking at the employee rolls at major news and media outlets. Thousands of journalists have lost their jobs this year through restructurings and layoffs, while cities like Youngstown, Ohio have lost their one and only daily…

Why do media companies struggle to produce anything of value?

It’s the absolute best economy the United States has seen in decades, and yet, you wouldn’t know it from looking at the employee rolls at major news and media outlets. Thousands of journalists have lost their jobs this year through restructurings and layoffs, while cities like Youngstown, Ohio have lost their one and only daily local newspaper.
That’s led to much hand-wringing: can media be saved? And even more specifically, can media companies ever build the kinds of scalable product businesses that we’ve seen in the software world? In short, why does media struggle to create value?
One trigger for this conversation was Maxwell Strachan’s in-depth HuffPost retrospective analysis of the rise and demise of Mic, which had garnered tens of millions of venture capital in its heyday before fire-selling to Bustle Digital Group. That piece led venture capitalist and former media company founder Om Malik to opine with a great post yesterday assigning blame for the (many) plights facing the media industry squarely on the shoulders of, let’s just call them dumb media executives:
When you have sales guys (they are mostly guys) in charge, decisions will reflect their usual approach, which is to maximize their personal gains as quickly as possible, cash in their bonus checks, and then move on to another outfit desperate enough to let them do it all again. This won’t work in an industry in need of the focus, foresight, and boldness that brings about transformational change. Sadly, the media establishment’s attitude appears to track more with our politicians’ thinking on climate change. They tell themselves, “I’ll be dead before the bad stuff happens.”
Malik’s answer is direct but only partially correct. Yes, media executives share plenty of the blame for what’s happened to the industry the past two decades. But part of the reason they failed to produce value is that they believed in this widespread notion that software “product” and media “product” are somehow similar and can borrow each others’ mental models and frameworks.
It’s just not true though, and the alchemical fusion of digital and media into our modern “digital media” hellscape is still predicated on a fundamental mistake: that somehow media can be made to look like software, and all we need is “foresight” and “innovation” to bridge the divide.
Let’s start with just the pure economics of these businesses. Venture capitalists and founders love software busin
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