Digital Transformation

The news is dead. Long live the news.

Newspapers like the New York Daily News are collapsing. Fake news is rampant. Facebook and Google dominate the media. News veteran Chris Mohney explains the modern history of Internet publishing.

TechRepublic's Dan Patterson sat down with print-news media-vet Chris Mohney from OvertureMagazine to talk about the transition from traditional print to the booming Internet publishing arena.

Dan Patterson: Chris Mohney, you have had a long and interesting career in media starting with Time Inc., at Gawker for a long time and now Overture magazine. Overture is one of these return-to-print ventures, which is very heartening to see. But let's talk about the evolution of not just media but of the business of media. When you started in the nineties, there was a protocol, and a process and most importantly, a business model, and then the Internet disrupted things. Can you explain what that was like as the first wave of Bubble 1.0, but as the first wave of digital technology rolled in?

Chris Mohney: Sure. When I began working at Time Inc. in the late nineties, a variety of shelter magazines, most of which are gone now, I think. There were websites, barely, which did not publish everything in the magazines. In fact, it was almost the stereotypical cliché of the least-qualified, most junior people, were assigned to write things for the magazine websites, which were mostly glorified subscription-ads or links, to some attempt by the corporate parent to create a portal site. Do you remember those? None of which worked, of course. I published a lot of mini articles, usually sort of extraneous extra interviews or mini-features and pieces that we're judged not significant enough for print at the time, which was of course not only where most of the editorial heat happened, but also where all the money was being made in advertising.

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That persisted for quite some time, until I kind of segued out of that side of business, and worked for in travel for awhile, both as a freelance writer and editor, then also doing travel-guide books, mostly on U.S. destinations, but sometimes elsewhere, and even then, this was still entirely printed. At this point, there were just the very beginnings of travel booking, but nothing about... like destination coverage as we know it today. It was not quite to the point where the Internet had completely destroyed the travel industry, and remade it, from the ground up.

Not long after that, I ended up getting further into books and starting to lose my interest in print and books, especially as an editor, and took sort of a wild chance, and ended up working at a Grid Skipper, the Gawker Media travel blog, which had just launched back then. From there, worked on Gawker, the mother ship for, for a while, before segued out of there, back to a combination print-and-digital business that BlackBook magazine had become. It was a pop-culture magazine from the nineties that had changed hands, and was being sort of remade by a group of tech investors trying to make it a digital competitor to Zagat guides and even "Vice," to some extent, because they had their own travel-guide series and putting that online. The revolution we saw — in which we just completely fell backwards into unintentionally — was that we started making websites of this travel data for the cities that we covered, and discovered that the system you used to make that, could also be used to power apps, which the App store had just launched.

So we were very early into making just ridiculous numbers of these white-label apps of basically the same information, kind of cut-and-sliced, however, whatever, a client wanted.

Worked with MTV and Inner Daily News, and a bunch of other different clients. It was like that was like the only real serious kind of Internet gold-rush that I was front-and-center for, just because that was the classic era of everyone-must-have-an-app, no matter what it takes, but there was no in-house expertise anywhere. So every fly-by-night shop like us was being shoved into the front door, and having meetings we had no right to be having. The funny thing was that there was no proposal too absurd that could not be "green-lit" if you had the attention of somebody.

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The worst/best example was we were hired to do an app for "The Jersey Shore" MTV app, which was going to be mostly a city guide because Apple at the time was really liking any kind of local information app, and was inclined to "green light" them, regardless. This was also the time when Apple would promote any App that used any new technology. They had just introduced the accelerometer into the phones, so in a meeting with a bunch of MTV executives, where I was probably not even supposed to be talking because I was there with the sales guys, and the developers, and other people, but I was in charge of the editorial side, providing the content.

The guy there who owned the MTV Apple relationship said, "Well, Apple really wants to see us submit an app that uses the accelerometer, what can we do?" because we also had a partnership with Foursquare for checking into these venues using their API. I said, "Wouldn't it be funny?," not intending this to be seriously received: "If you could do a Jersey Shore style fist pump with the phone to check in at whatever venue we're at." All the MTV guys were like, "Love it," so that became a $20,000 extra feature added into this app, which I regretted for most of my life, since that it happened. Fortunately that app is no longer available.

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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