Patrick Ruffini

Will print newspapers even exist twenty years from now? Judging by the pile of newspapers that stack up in my recycling bin in mint condition each week, the odds can't be good.

Slowly but surely, the marketplace is coming to be dominated by a rising generation unaccustomed to the touch of newsprint at their fingerprints. It's not just that everything is moving to the Web. It's that the notion of broadcasting to the masses is dying. The audience used to passively consume content; now they're information hunter-gatherers, cobbling together a customized diet of information from the Web and their TiVo. To succeed in this environment, your media has to be interesting every time out or the viewer will time-shift to something else. That's different than the days when your name had to be Dan, Peter, or Tom, and the 6:30 time slot was your megaphone.

Blogs and personal media outlets from YouTube to MySpace are breaking from under the yoke of mass media. And the new medium is versatile enough that old media isn't always the loser -- more often than not, it's mainstream news clips us political junkies like to pass around. The difference is that MSM content is being passed around in 2-minute increments, not tidily packaged 42-minute programming blocs. And there's just as much "juice" in that audience of 10,000 that watches the clip on YouTube as there is in the 300,000 who watched in on TV. Why? Because those 10,000 are invested enough to seek out the clip and make sure it's remembered; for most of the 300,000, it's just background noise.

In the new media world, you don't need big numbers so much as you need to generate passion and interest with the right audience. An old adage seems adept: "Sure, I have just one reader, but he's the President of the United States."

This is teaching media outlets both old and new to stop worrying and embracing niche audiences. The web site you're reading now is proof of it. Townhall can be called the homepage of American conservatism, but it makes no pretense to be all things to all people, as do the homepages of the New York Times and Washington Post. And an interesting experiment now underway in Washington will prove whether or not the new media boat is sturdy enough to fit some of the heavy hitters from the old.

Patrick Ruffini

Patrick Ruffini is an online strategist dedicated to helping Republicans and conservatives achieve dominance in a networked era. He has seen American politics from every vantagepoint — as a campaign staffer, activist, and analyst.