What a week (in media)

Lemon, it’s Wednesday

Hi, everyone! If today’s Smoothletter seems to have a certain je ne sais quoi…it’s probably because it’s being tippy tappy typed from our brand new Smooth Media Global Headquarters.

We just moved into our first permanent (non-WeWork) office in NYC, and we’re deeply proud of the team that worked so hard to get us here. We’re a real company now (or so our parents say)! DM for the address—we’re accepting housewarming gifts in the form of couches, Edible Arrangements, and decorative disco balls. 🪩

—Kinsey, cofounder and head of editorial

The Media Thought Leadership Machine Is Humming

As someone who took one semester of communications theory and promptly started saying “the medium is the message,” I really love following media news. What can I say, getting meta about the ways we consume, distribute, and understand information is catnip for anyone with a dusty old journalism degree (sup).

This week, I’ve been #blessed with a cornucopia of compelling media news/trends. So today, I’m sharing the stories we talked about in Slack and at the ✨ office ✨ (this week is Smooth Quarterly IRL, aka SQIRL, aka our quarterly off-site/on-site/excuse to get together in-person). The news that puts the Media in Smooth Media, if you will.

RIP Trump Bump

In 2015, with arguably one of the more famous escalator rides in American history, Former President Donald Trump initiated the “Trump bump,” aka the ratings boon (and subsequent ad dollars boon) that buoyed the news media industry through the mid- to late-2010s. Weird time for democracy, stellar time for CBS & Co.

In 2024, though, there’s no Trump bump to speak of.

That’s partially because we, as the electorate, have resigned to the fact that 2024 is a Groundhog Day election—Trump vs. Biden, part deux. “That’s left the national news media, which is constructed around the four-year election cycles, with not a lot to do on the campaign trail,” wrote Max Tani in Semafor.

The media lesson: This inspires a question…is there such a thing as too big to succeed? Hitching your wagon to something as integral to the US as apple pie and threatening to move to Canada—an election cycle we’ve participated in every four years since 1789—seems like a good call.

But the moment that reality shifts, the media companies that glommed on are left millions of dollars in the hole, literally. Tough to do a U-turn in an 18-wheeler. It’s not original to say that the biggest flaw of traditional news media is a lack of flexibility, but it is true.

As our oft-cited friend Brian Morrissey wrote this week, there will be bottoming out of the media middle class. The Capital-I Institutions will stick it out; the scrappy and nimble niche players will thrive. But those too big to pivot but too small to rely on reputation alone will falter.

We’ve built Smooth to serve niche knowledge creators who are willing to evolve with their audiences as the world changes. We’ll continue to put our chips on the creators and young media companies that can 1) insulate themselves from chaos but more importantly 2) bend to avoid breaking.

Next up: Making the case for slow media

I’m really enjoying Kyle Chayka’s press for his new book, Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture (the book itself is in my queue). Of particular interest? His take on the building wave of slow, methodical, sustainable content.

As Chayka appears to see it, we’re growing bored and unsatisfied with the algorithmic experience of drinking from a fire hose. These algorithms have created a so-called cultural “flattening” in their efforts to box us into neatly defined taste profiles—algorithmic recommendations have erased the need for personal preferences and removed any challenge or intrigue from the experience of being online…or as NPR aptly put it, “machine-guided curation has made us docile consumers and flattened our likes and tastes.”

Dissatisfaction with that flattening is reaching a fever pitch. It’s time for something new, and audiences are cozying up to the idea of paid content, new media, and a generally more measured approach. Finally, some optimism

The media lesson: For better or worse, exposure to an algorithm is a prerequisite for success in media today. It’s how discoverability happens. But what Chayka and others (Dirt comes to mind, wish the Meatspace newsletter were still around to see all this) are proving is that the algorithm could be a means instead of an end.

What if we started to think about algorithms as a way to find people you then engage with sustainable content you own (*cough* newsletters *cough*)? The friction is higher, but the payoff could be considerable. Food for thought.

One last thing: Podcasts

Apple is changing how it reports podcast listenership to correct broadly inflated listener metrics. It previously counted anyone who hit “subscribe” at any time as a listener, even if their phone was automatically downloading episodes of a show they hadn’t listened to in months or years.

The change will be a reckoning for some ad-supported audio shows, which are now forced to walk back listener stats to partners paying for reach they never really got.

The media lesson: Engagement > reach. Niche audiences > reach. We’ll always favor metrics we can earnestly measure over those that platforms are all but making up.

  • MrBeast is reportedly nearing a deal for a reality competition show with Prime Video.

  • Barstool is partnering with Rumble after clashes with YouTube over content moderation.

  • The question: Does everyone eventually become an ad data seller? The answer: This piece.

  • Condé Nast union workers walk out this week; Anne Hathaway stands in solidarity. ✊

  • Taylor Lorenz breaks down the bigger picture of recent (and widespread) media layoffs.

#digibuzzcodevoxious is a term we coined back in our Morning Brew days—a portmanteau of Digiday, BuzzFeed, Recode, Vox, and Axios. Obviously, the year was 2018 and the interest rates were zero. But still, the sentiment of “interesting media trends and news” remains. So the name stays.

Thanks for reading! See you next week for a recap of our star-studded Friends of Smooth Soiree happening tonight. 🥂