New media companies regularly lambast the old media guarde as part of their investor pitches, but after more than decade of online media, it is time it’s time to admit the new media revolution hasn’t lived up to its promise. There are lots of inspiring white papers on how digital media is going to save the world, but no one wants to talk about its downsides. Was media better off before the “digital revolution”?
The claims listed here are hardly scientific, but there is little research on how technology affects the working class of creators, or the culture around new media in general. This is what my colleagues in the film and other creative industries are stressed about. These are not the issues CEOs discuss on stage, or what is published on corporate news sites. These are some of the concerns that employees are whispering about in the office. This is what is discussed over beers when the boss isn’t around.
The promise: Independent filmmakers will be able to make a living distributing their films online.
The Reality: Middle class filmmakers are broke, and independent talent isn’t being supported anymore. Even the most established filmmakers are having an impossible time financing independent projects that deviate at all from the blockbuster bubblegum formula. Those who are successful on YouTube make a small fraction of the money they would if they were to reach the same size audiences on television or in theaters. Filmmakers are now forbidden from finding their own sponsors for their projects on YouTube, squeezing creators even further. Details on deals reached between Netflix and indies are scarce because the fees are embarrassingly low. Three sources have told me Netflix is paying less than $50,000 for independent film rights, a very small fraction of the budgets of the projects sold. Others have said YouTube is paying just pennies.
Filmmakers working on small to mid-size corporate projects are seeing rates plummet. The same people who told me about the embarrassingly low pay rates offered by Netflix and YouTube also say TV veterans are shooting projects for $200-$300 a day after decades of producing award-winning work, lower than the rate I charged fresh out of college. About a half dozen friends and colleagues have told m that in NYC, rates have remained stagnant or have decreased over the last ten years. Even though there are more platforms, there are too many people who are willing to work for nothing, and many producers don’t care enough about the quality of their online videos. With these impossible freelance rates, there won’t be trained and experienced professionals available to work on mid-level projects. Fixing toilets will fetch fees exponentially higher than working in corporate video or news in most cities.
The Promise: Internet media will give marginalized groups a voice and a place to commune and organize
The Reality: Online media has become a cesspool of harassment putting marginalized groups on the defensive. The atmosphere around any controversial topic has become toxic online. I get hate messages, and death threats from Nazis, and trolls around my project, Punk Jews, every week. That is less hate than many creators get, but I can attest that when you say anything about an outsider group, it opens them up for an attack that might be more profound than the media that is produced to advocate for them. So what is the point of media advocacy if everything you post is a rallying cry for your detractors?
The Promise: Without big media conglomerates, controversial topics that were taboo in traditional media will be able to be addressed in online media.
The Reality: While the internet is made up of niches, if the niche is too small, money can’t be made on it. If money can’t be made on it, web publishers aren’t going to let their staff report on it, same as ever. When I would walk into Tower Records in the 90s, it seemed like there was far more quality content being made for smaller communities. Quality outsider journalism is almost gone in online media, it seems. Solid writing and information that used to drive subscriptions of newspapers and magazines doesn’t drive the economy of internet media, creating a journalistic world of low-quality clickbait.
The Promise: Digital media will provide detailed analytics, giving producers, advertisers, and audiences detailed information about the popularity of projects.
The Reality: Fake likes, and fake views, have all but destroyed credibility for digital video stats. Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber and Alicia Keys have all been caught with fake views, and YouTube is allegedly still charging advertisers for views watched by computer code, profiting from the fraud. Users are claiming Facebooks video view counts are just also fraudulent, and likes generated from Facebook’s own advertising program have also been seen coming from fake accounts. While YouTube claims to be cracking down on fake views, when I recently asked an exec from a very popular YouTube channel about how many fake views he thought were on the main YouTube channels after the crackdown. He told me “about half,” and that generating fake views was a necessary part of a competitive strategy.
The Promise: Everyone has a voice, and can be seen on the internet.
The Reality: As social networks have monetized, news feed and search result filters favor companies who advertise and pay for SEO, essentially censoring independent voices. As traditional media money enters the world of online media, being heard requires less talent and more money. Sure, your grandma will see your Facebook posts, but if you want to rock the world with political news, you need to have someone behind you who can pay to push it.
The Promise: New media offices won’t be sweatshops
The Reality: Okay, I don’t know if this was ever a promise, but I don’t think anyone anticipated labor conditions to disintegrate as quickly as they have. Everyone around me seems to be working ungodly hours — two decades into their digital media careers I know media makers have always worked long hours, but now people are expected to be available 24- hours a day, seven days a week. People are tired after regular 60-80 hour weeks, and while they are making a living wage, rent and property prices continue to climb in the big cities. As a result, fewer content producers working full time jobs at corporate media companies can afford to buy, or even rent, housing on their own. At least some folks are unionizing. Hopefully they can leverage our power.
So what is the solution?
YouTube, and other social networks that rely on advertising for big money, need real competition in order to realize its most valuable asset: content creators. We need a platform that charges a fair advertising rate, and pays creators a fair share of advertising revenue, and allows us to get our own sponsors so we can raise real budgets and pay real crews. Until then, it is a race to the bottom. When you get paid $600-$1,000 for producing content that reaches a million people, something is very broken. An episode of a TV show that reaches 500,000 to 2 million people will have a budget of at least $100,000. The discrepancy is insane.
We need to embrace platforms that that favor the marketplace of ideas and not the marketplace of misleading advertising. Here are a two other things you can do:
- If you don’t want your information manipulated by advertising filters, get your news from an unfiltered source like an RSS news service. Getting your news from anywhere besides Facebook and Google is progress.
- Subscribe and share publications you trust and enjoy. Support them with your money so workers can pay they can pay their swellings rents.
If we want something more than dumb sensationalism and cat videos, the social networks that are downing in money are going to have to share with the people who make the content that bring people to their sites.
Do you have a response to this post? Agree or disagree? Let us know your thoughts and reactions in the comments below!