Builders vs Pundits

Media power and influence is slipping away from legacy media institutions. And that’s good for those interested in getting the facts

It’s crazy to think that 99% of the content we consume comes from people in the business of commenting, complaining, and hot takes, NOT from people in the business of making, creating, or fixing things. — Sari Azout

This is changing fast though. Content creation is clearly shifting to those those in the business of making, creating or fixing things. And what is more important, their influence is orders of magnitude higher than that of those in the business of commenting, complaining, and opining. 

Legacy media corporations used to have a thriving business as a result of holding two monopolies: distribution and access to content. With the Internet, the costs of distribution evaporated, and so did the monopoly that media corporations had on customer attention. Suddenly, companies and protagonists no longer needed an intermediary to communicate with the public. They could go direct. 

Every company is now a media company and every citizen is a citizen journalist. Go direct if you have something to say. The whole concept of giving free content, quotes, interviews to legacy media corporations is obsolete. It’s a habit. A bad habit. Break it. And if you have news to break, break it on your own channels. Want a quote from Elon Musk? Check his feed like everyone else. Everyone gets access to the same info at the same time. — Balaji Srinivasan

Legacy media companies saw their influence and credibility erode, and they are fighting to regain access to their long-lost monopolies. An important angle of their flight is by attacking the technologies and companies that have given consumers direct access to information. These attacks come through hit pieces as well as calls for censorship, cancellation, regulation and breaking the tools and the actors that are getting in between legacy media corporations and their previously held monopolies. It’s come down to a battle between tech and journalism. Between creators and complainers. Between doers and opiners. 

The goal of the media these days is to make every problem your problem; that’s how they get attention. It’s how they get clicks. There’s a circus going on with the monkeys, flinging feces at each other, and they want to drag you into the fight.Naval Ravikant

In order to understand the relative influence of both camps on twitter, I did a simple exercise to come up with an “influence factor” number for 12 accounts from legacy media companies and reporters and 12 accounts from builders and doers. This number reflects the degree of engagement (likes, retweets, comments) that a tweet is expected to generate. The more engagement, the more followers are reading and paying attention. So, if the influence factor of CNN’s twitter account is 6, for example, it means that a CNN tweet will generate around 6 total engagements (likes + retweets +comments) for every 1 million followers. You can see the data and calculations here.

These are the results of the analysis:

Here it is in a table format including the number of twitter followers. The combination of high number of followers and low number of influence in the legacy media accounts signal either that they are buying fake followers, or that their influence and credibility is indeed exponentially lower than those in the business of building products. A combination of these two factors is probably the case. 

Influence factor number is the average total engagement (likes + retweets + comments) that a tweet gets for every million followers. Blue cells are accounts from builders/founders/creators. Orange cells are from legacy media.

In this analysis, we can see that the influence of legacy media institutions and their journalists is much lower compared to that of the doers and builders. This is hardly surprising. Kara Swisher might coin herself as Silicon Valley's most powerful tech journalist, but tech journalists are no longer that powerful or relevant anymore. Consumers no longer place that much trust on journalists (whether they have a Nobel prize or not) or media institutions (regardless of calling themselves as the owners of Truth). Their bias is too predictable. Their narrative is too repetitive. The hypocrisy is too evident. Their negative angles get old. Consumers now understand that many journalists mold stories to fit their legacy media employers' narrative. Consumers understand that "legacy" (synonym for inheritance) media institutions like the New York Times are inherited institutions that name their successors from within the family (the Sulzbergers in the case of the New York Times) and that have a narrative to push because it’s good for business.

The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them. — Elon Musk.

Consumers are opting instead to hear directly from those that are building things. They are choosing to pay attention to those that are creating the future and talking about issues with nuance and with first party data. 

This shift is having interesting implications. We are seeing the emergence of media channels from players with skin in the game like Venture Capital company a16z, which has built a media company to write about technology and innovation as told by those building it. Another sign of the times is how Tesla stopped answering press inquiries in 2020 and dissolved its PR department. 

And here is a prediction. Code Conference is an annual technology conference co-founded and hosted by Kara Swisher and owned by Vox Media. It describes itself as the “conference that needs no introduction”. In 5–10 years, Code Conference will need an introduction, it will struggle to get participants and a new tech conference by creators for creators will have taken over. My bet is that the All-In besties will be behind that.

The shift of media influence in favor of builders is good. It means that we will have more genuine and diverse views as opposed to tribal narratives that push polarization to drive clicks. It means that we will hear directly from those that are in the front lines building the future and sharing it to anyone who wants to listen and learn.