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01.03.10

The Next Year in Media

Bylines will become brands, niche passions will go big, Web TV finally becomes must-see—and other fearless media predictions for 2010.

Last year, I made some predictions about 2009, and looking back on them I was struck by how dominant the election was in 2008. Not everything came true (The year of the black media star? We can do better, folks.) But some predictions did play out: The rise of grassroots-based "undernews" ( Van Jones can tell you that, and so can the people from ACORN); journalists wearing many hats (Tina Brown coined the indelible new phrase for it right here: The Gig Economy); forgetting about Iraq (but at least it's because people are actually paying attention to Afghanistan). And even I can admit that the Clinton-Palin sexism issues of the '08 election seem distant now, especially when suddenly everyone loves Hillary, and Sarah Palin is controlling the public discourse from her Facebook page. Sound crazy? It is. Get ready for 2010.

After Boxee, the people who are on Web TV right now will seem like those early adopters on Twitter—and their followings will probably mushroom accordingly.

Mash-Up Media

If there's one thing that 2009 showed us, it's that everything is happening everywhere, across multiple platforms, each one making waves that end up crashing against each other and commingling into one giant media sea. Wrote a story for the paper? Good, now put it on Facebook and tweet it out and make a companion YouTube video—and don't forget to Digg it! In 2010, it's not only a new year but a new decade—or, as I like to say, a New Yecade, because what else to call a time when everything is a mash-up?

Plus, with incredibly low barriers to entry as well as video ripping/importing/editing/audio tracking and the like, it takes about 0.5 seconds before fans have converged upon a video release and reset it with their own sound/spin/audio/video/self against a greenscreen. If you don't believe me, do a simple search for "Edward and Bella" on YouTube (seriously, does every teenage girl have their own special love song for that pair?). Or just look at DJ Earworm. Or the Sims version of “ Bad Romance.” Or the crowdsourced, DIY “ Star Wars: Uncut.” We have entered the age of mash-up media. Have fun, copyright lawyers.

The Power of Niche

2009 allowed us to branch out, diversify, and yes, niche-ify in all directions—and if there is one thing that will take root in the New Yecade, it will be the Power of Niche. A strong and enthusiastic niche audience can push a topic into mainstream consciousness with speed and force. Twitter, of course, enabled that last year, and it will only get more powerful this year. The Twitterverse now has more than 200 million follower-members (remember back in April when it was such a big deal that Ashton Kutcher hit that 1 million follower milestone?), and many more influencers from all areas are coming up in the ranks. Galvanizing those groups—say, the Funny or Die kids, the Ultimate Fighting fans, the people Tim Tebow reaches with his eyeblack Scripture verses—will mean big business in 2010. Forget about the mainstream, hit up those nerds.

Undernews 2.0

News will continue to crawl out into the spotlight from under any rock these days, and it's taking less and less time for it to hit the mainstream. Again, it comes down to noise—Glenn Beck picked up the ACORN and Van Jones balls and ran with them, and, Lordy, does that man know how to make a racket. And get results. There's still a dividing line between what you see on the evening news and what Slate's Mickey Kaus coined as " undernews"—stories that percolate online, and are built up and tire-kicked in the blogosphere—but now the line between the blogs and Diane Sawyer is more like a slippery slope upward via outlets like Glenn Beck. Meanwhile, sites like Gawker are staffing up on reporters and breaking real news all the time (two words for you here: Balloon Boy, and a three-word follow-up: McSteamy Sex Tape). More than any other outlets, Gawker and Glenn Beck represent Undernews 2.0—they still have it before The New York Times will touch it, but eventually, it'll get there.

My Byline, My Brand

At the end of 2009, Jennifer 8. Lee took a buyout from The New York Times. I wonder if her 9,250 Twitter followers really care. I first saw her name on Gawker, and have read more about her than I have by her. Not that she isn't a fine writer with fine work, but the point is: She's a brand. She's a brand that can go anywhere, and though the Times certainly helps as a launching pad and validator, her brand exists apart from that. So does Andrew Ross Sorkin's. The most influential people who read him do so on their BlackBerries every morning before they even get to the paper. (And his mug on Morning Joe every other day doesn't hurt.) And I get my Chris Cillizza fix via Twitter and email more than I read him at The Washington Post.

The point is, those who diversified across platforms and invested in themselves in 2009 are now positioned to go on to the next thing. Is that disloyal to your employer? Of course not—smart employers will recognize the value in personal brand extension, and encourage it. It's only the weak and unconfident that are threatened by such things. 2010 has no time for you.

To Hell With SEO!

The part of the New Yecade I'm most excited for is this: the return to quality. Yes, it helps your Google rank to have key search terms in the headline. Yes, you should remember to tag stories and tag them again. Yes, we have all learned the lessons of ferociously jumping on the latest big news story—Michael Jackson’s death showed how big those dividends could be, and damn near broke the Internet in the process. But if you care about the news and write what you want to read—not just what you think Google search wants to read—there are people out there who want to read it.

This philosophy neatly sums up the success of The Awl, created by former Gawker-ites Alex Balk and Choire Sicha. The two looked at the Internet and didn't see the site that they wanted, so they made one. They had writers they liked write about topics they found interesting, and built up a site filled with content they cared about, presented according to their rules. (Those writers, by the way, contribute for free, and not because they don't have any other options.) Yes, they talk about Megan Fox, but when they do it's like this. And some of their posts don't even have headlines. Yet, they're in the top 75 sites on Technorati. More of this, please.

It’s Not TV. It’s Boxee!

2010 will be the year that Web TV grows up. Sure, we have trailblazers like Rocketboom, Diggnation, and iJustine, but the Web has yet to mint any real A-list stars or must-see shows. That's because people have been thinking of the Web as television, and of course it falls short (buffering, anyone?). But that may finally be changing. Livestreaming is starting to pick up, and looks pretty good in the process. Blip.tv, which provides a (monetizable!) platform for Web TV creators, is flat-out blowing up. And the MSM is finally throwing some resources at Web TV—look no further than Fox's The Strategy Room (smartly loading up on Web-friendly personalities) and CBS’s @ KatieCouric.

Above all, 2010 will see the implementation of Boxee, which will finally allow users to funnel Web video easily to the TV. Boxee has all the Web nerds in a tizzy, and it's because it's going to change the game. After Boxee, the people who are on Web TV right now will seem like those early adopters on Twitter—and their followings will probably mushroom accordingly.

Grownups, You Need the Kids... and Kids, You Need the Grownups

It's true, and I'm tired of your bickering. Grownups, you've been in this business for decades, but the ground is shifting under your feet and if you don't grab on to some smart 22-year-old, you're screwed. Why? Because that 22-year-old grew up on the Internet while you were spending all your time working in some other quaint old-timey medium. So stop pulling rank and just say, "help me." They will. And to you young punks who think you run this world—there actually are rules in this Wild West. Quaint old-fashioned conventions like transparency, attribution, confirmation, and accountability will matter just as much in 2010, maybe more now that the Internet is multiplying around us like Mickey's broom in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. And if you don't get that reference, ask a grownup. There's much we can teach you.

Rachel Sklar is the editor at large for Mediaite.com and a contributor to The Daily Beast. She was formerly a senior writer and editor at the Huffington Post, and before that, a lawyer. She runs online micro-giving site Charitini, and Twitters up a storm here.