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Pulitzer Prize for Blogs

Posted on Tuesday, Feb 7th

I wrote this article for the MIT Alumni Opinion Column, What Matters.

Democratic New Media Publishing: Is the Game Changing?

By Sramana Mitra EE ’95

For the longest time, creative professionals like writers, photographers, film-makers, and musicians have been at the mercy of editors and owners of significant and prestigious media properties like The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, The Economist, MTV, HBO, and more. And yet, a handful of magazines, studios, or TV channels cannot even begin to support and lend a voice to the enormous creative spirit that exists in this world.

Today, with the advent of such phenomena as blogs and podcasting, a new era of democratic electronic media publishing has come upon us. Democratic new media publishing is the name that I give to all the user-generated electronic content being published on the Internet today at the click of a post-and-publish tab with relatively easy-to-use software. Text, photo, and video blogs are the most popular forms of this New Media paradigm.

The nerds have suddenly set free the liberal arts types in droves. The artsies have not yet quite figured out this enormous gift and its full potential. Nonetheless, the phenomenon is well at work, and it will change the rules of the game for creative professionals world-wide. It will also change the rules for marketers and brand-builders.

My Experiment with Blogs

I have been writing for 20 years and have published occasionally—a few articles, some poetry. After working at three startups during the Internet revolution, I began consulting in Silicon Valley. I have led a busy life, professionally and personally, so the idea of chasing editors to get my writings published is one unpleasant business on which I decided not to invest energy.

Years went by until one day, I merged the two and used my love of writing to communicate about strategy and entrepreneurship in a blog format.

I started in April 2005 and had about 7,500 unique visitors that month, with anywhere between 500 and 1,500 on a daily basis, and rising steadily. Heavy-hitters in Silicon Valley come to my site, read, comment, and participate. Fairly deep and intricate discussions start to emerge. Other writers pick up on the threads and discussions ripple out to a broader universe.

It is an interactive medium and, for someone like me, whose target audience is very focused (investors, thought leaders, and decision makers in the technology and Internet realms), it has expanded my reach and ability to communicate with this universe exponentially, literally within minutes. I can monitor trends and have other experts participate and contribute; the net effect being a richer and deeper knowledge base.

The Bigger Vision

With time, more people will take advantage of these democratic new media publishing opportunities. More serious writers and creative professionals will learn to market and sell their work using the Internet. Micro-payment mechanisms will mature, ad-supported business models will improve, and auctions of good work will become possible. A quality evaluation system will start to emerge as we go along. Good writers, good audio broadcasters, and good filmmakers will be able to monetize their work abundantly and creatively.

The key word, of course, is good. Today’s Internet has a small percentage of quality content. The top caliber content producers are still not publishing on the Internet except for a few early adopters, especially those with technical savvy. But with time, the incentive system will also become clearer for the technology-phobic segment, giving them reason to take the medium more seriously. Both fame- and fortune-building opportunities for creative professionals will broaden. As a social phenomenon, I am very attracted by the prospect of the democratizing effect blogs have on publishing in general.

I predict there will be the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for Internet content—equally prestigious, equally well respected, equally well-regarded. Recently, a first step in this direction has been taken: an Emmy Award has been announced for small screen entertainment: podcasting, etc. With one difference though: where the Da Vinci Code sold 25 million copies over a span of several years, a piece of electronic content could be viewed by 100 million people in a nano-second.

Quality content that’s published, managed, distributed, and marketed through blogs, video-blogs, photo-blogs, and audio-casts, is a macro-phenomenon. We, the MIT community, should not only watch it, we should participate, leverage it to brainstorm on ideas, as well as contribute to enhancing the medium itself. There is a lot of the infrastructure yet to be developed, and in the last few months, I have seen several startups focusing on the phenomenon.

Most of all, those of us who like to write and have interesting things to say, but have not had the time to navigate the murky and political waters of mainstream media to get past their editors, can now take advantage of blogs and access our readership.

Published December 2005.

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Sramana Mitra on Strategy » Blog Archive » Pulitzer Embraces the Web Thursday, May 11, 2006 at 1:09 PM PT