There’s a lot of good discussion about journalistic practices and so on in this CJR piece about a story that recently appeared on Medium, the long-form writing platform founded by the guys behind Twitter. Here’s the conclusion, though, which also serves as the nut of the piece:
…until Medium clarifies which pieces contain the full weight of their editorial judgement and which pieces are just hosted on the site, they’re leaving room for a whole lot of confusion and gossip.
That gets close to what has always been the problem with Medium for me. It’s tried to have the best of both worlds but has, by virtue of that, kind of fallen through the cracks and failed to fully do either. If it was just trying to be a cool platform that surfaced, through a mix of algorithms and some human editor curation, some interesting and important community-contributed stories and articles it could be really cool. If it was just a platform for high-end commissioned content from a series of top-tier writers (and maybe paid articles from brands) that would be great as well. It could be a cool platform on which to rethink the traditional magazine format in a way that established media brands – I’m looking at you Newsweek and others – haven’t been able to.
Instead it’s decided to have feet in both worlds. And while that’s made for an experience where the reader often doesn’t know what it is they’re getting – a fully edited story or someone’s random op-ed – there are opportunities to clear things up and eliminate confusion.
The first and biggest step would be to spike the “all content is created equal” mindset and create clear sections on the site that differentiate one type from the other. Right now the “collections” that content within Medium is pushed into are great if you know what you’re looking for, but this needs to be expanded a bit so that, for lack of a better phrase, the professional is divided from the amateur.
The best rest example I can think of is how Buzzfeed a while ago opened their platform to content from outside writers – including brands – that was then vetted by someone on the editorial staff and which had the potential to then be promoted more fully on the site. Those different types of articles were labeled differently so the audience (at least those who were paying attention) knew what they were reading and could judge accordingly.
Medium doesn’t need to abandon both models/services. But it does need to more fully figure out how it’s going to differentiate between the two, not just for the sake of the readers but also for its own sake, so it can decide what it’s going to be accountable for and what it won’t. That doesn’t mean there should be content that it’s alright with taking down because of some complaint or another. Quit the contrary, it should adopt the model used by Twitter, WordPress and other “dumb” platforms that it won’t remove material published there unless there’s a damn good reason to do so, a damn good reason that’s accompanied by a court order.
Most urgently, Medium needs to be clear about what its plans are. Only then can it can get down to some serious innovation, which I remain convinced the platform is capable of, despite my frustrations to date with it.