The word "tronc" sounds like the name of an evil company made to takeover an industry, making the world worse despite reaping massive profits. It's fitting that tronc is the rebranded name of Tribune Publishing Company, publicly traded on NASDAQ. The mission is simple: take the content produced by the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and eight other daily newspapers and monetize it better than the previous iteration of the brand did after a well-publicized shift in corporate strategies.
The tronc launch is the moment where new media and old media have become indistinguishable. There is no differentiation from digitally native companies producing content or legacy media companies staying afloat with digital strategies. No one can claim to produce content that is more meaningful than anyone else's simply based on the medium. In a post-tronc world, assume that all media companies are the same, and flooding the world with content for the broadest possible audience.
Tronc made snarky, blog-style headlines this week for its employee video, outlining their company rebranding and strategy for monetizing content in today's digital media landscape. It made claims to be the future of journalism and the future of content. It will take local journalism, feed it into a funnel, and optimize it in order to reach the biggest global audience possible. Tronc proudly attempts to make content for the broadest possible audience using artificial intelligence.
The video was comical to media #insiders because it is what everyone already does, except most digital media companies hold tightly to the humanity in the user. Tronc instead will use machine learning to guide journalism. It's not just a media company, it's a tech company that turns journalism into content. Humans will consume this content, and tronc will monetize the content. They found a complicated way to declare they are committed to the strategies that will monetize online content.
The tone of the video was a parody of the spirit of disruption, and it touted strategies that already exist. If they use artificial intelligence to turn hard journalism (or any textual content) to video, they will generate the ad revenue to save the network of newspapers. Tronc videos can demand a higher advertising rate than yesterday's text-based content, like other videos produced by other digital media companies. It's better than saying, "We are waiting for people who read newspapers for journalism to die."
Some have speculated that the rebranding and video are all part of an elaborate attempt to drive up the price of shares in a potential takeover bid. Most media outlets spent time #shaming the company's ridiculously produced video and the claims it made in the video. Perhaps the media acclaim of the video is just the success of tronc's machine-learned ability to capture the hearts of the internet.
It's better than saying, "We are waiting for people who read newspapers for journalism to die."
Since 'blogs' became the hot way to consume news, digitally native online publishing companies were fighting a different battle than those of legacy publishers. They claimed to be in a different arena than the laggard, print-based gatekeepers of news who reluctantly made content available online. At this point, it's safe to consider all media companies are online content companies. Some just happen to have print mediums that circulate their content.
Tronc attempts to present an innovative method to monetize internet content, instead of offering innovative content. Flooding the internet with more video doesn't actually solve the problem that comes with monetizing content on the internet. Embedding videos at the top of content to sell advertising at a higher rate is already supposed to be one of many saviours of digital media. At a certain point, you aren't even really saving text-based journalism or the regional newspapers, you are just finding ways to promote your core competencies to drive up the value of the brand and the advertisers that choose to spend with you.
This is a legacy media concept that has only been recently adopted by digital native media companies. Acting as if your company will never not exist eliminates industry uncertainty tied to internet bubbles.
The ultimate lesson worth salvaging from the nascent days of digital media is that a company must make moves, or else it isn't moving. Announce a chatbot, launch a longform vertical, start a Snapchat team, or start a virtual reality portal so that your company can differentiate from the rest of the content on the internet. Change your name, diversify your content portals, and launch niche projects along the way. Maybe tronc can make up a digital name for newspaper printing like "streamling IRL-conversion processes." Most importantly, act as if you are a conglomerate that is coming to take over the world.
Tronc's promises aren't any more ridiculous than any one person's envisioned future of media, and their success or failure has no consequences on the future of the industry. There's plenty of companies making content that will continue to remain monetized regardless of being generated from humans, robots, old media companies, or new media companies. Ultimately, Tronc reminds us that content isn't made to be loved, it is made to be monetized.
Life on the Content Farm is a weekly column about internet media written by Carles, the last relevant blogger.