Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Meaning of Michael Ausiello Leaving EW

Michael Ausiello, long time television critic and reporter, announced on October 4, 2010 that he was leaving Entertainment Weekly to launch a new TV website, on Jay Penske's Mail.com Media.  This after Ausiello left TV Guide in May 2008, after six years as a scouping news TV reporter.   I know and admire Ausiello's work, but I don't know him personally.  I did not interview him for this blog post.   Instead, I want to briefly assess what his leaving EW - and TV Guide before it - means for the future of media, of written media about visual media, in particular.

It is no secret that traditional print media, ranging from the New York Times to TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly, have taken big hits in their readership and therefore their advertising revenue.  This is 100% because readers are getting their written words online.  Less discussed is where online readers are getting their words, and via what economic and social structures.

TV Guide is declining as a print venue, and has struggled to have much of an online presence.   Entertainment Weekly has lost paper readers, but has a robust, attractive online operation.   Yet Ausiello left not only TV Guide but EW.   Why?

I would say that the reason, in terms of media evolution, is that EW online is an example of a new media, but not what I call a new new medium.   By that I mean that EW, though online, is still ultimately created by top-down, boss assigning editors.   There's nothing wrong with this, and indeed a lot of superb writing has come from it, but the method is nonetheless fundamentally the same as the gate-keeper approach of traditional paper media.   The online venue of EW is free, and invites extensive commentary by readers - two hallmarks of new new media - but the underlying structures goes back to the Renaissance.

In this context, Ausiello's leaving EW, whatever the specific motives, represents a move from new to new new media.   Whatever money he may make (or not), Ausiello will no doubt have far more control over his content in his new position.  Further, with television itself in the midst of a revolutionary change from a broadcast/cable to an online medium, Ausiello's move is especially appropriate. I'm looking forward to seeing what this yields.

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