19 January 2010

The Myth of the "Green Media Bubble"

The Wall Street Journal's popular and influential Environmental Capital blog shut its doors last week, without much notice. This led to some speculation that the WSJ is part of some climate change denialist conspiracy, and others claimed there's some sort of "green media bubble."

Ummm... No. On both counts.

This is more a reflection of the reality of the media industry and how some companies are approaching it. I've spoken with some colleagues about this. We wouldn't be at all surprised to see some reincarnation of Environmental Capital behind a paywall. After all, that's where the Murdoch media-empire is headed - their approach to intellectual property frowns on giving people free access to popular content, and they're clearly not sold on the advertising-based online business model.

The question we should be asking is who will step up to be the leading provider of content in this space. Environmental Capital was a green business content powerhouse. The most popular "brands" in online green media - places like Treehugger, Worldchanging, Grist, etc. - are not business pubs.

Obviously there's the New York Times' Green Inc., but the rumors are flying that their days are numbered (again, a reflection of larger business issues in the media industry and nothing more). Another mainstream alternative is Reuters' Green Business, which has a more global feel. The GreenBiz Network, my pals at Live Oak Media's Earth and Industry , Triplepundit, and Energy Boom are next-gen social alternatives to the mainstream guys, but they're also more likely to have a pro-green bias. Alt Energy Stocks is where I go to look at thoughtful commentary and analysis on green finance. Marc Gunther also writes regularly at the same level of quality as the team at Environmental Capital. There are dozens more, and now that the all-powerful WSJ brand has retreated from the field, I'm expecting at least some of these sites will see their readership rise. If you create a netvibes tab or google reader category with these sites, you have instant access to all of it.

And this is why I'm really questioning WSJ's move. Their content was great. But it's not like there's an absence of similarly great content in this space. In this business, you can obviously assert your intellectual property rights and say people should pay for your content. But this is 2010, and the amount of excellent, insightful, and free content is increasing daily.


Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR said...

It is a concern that specific outlets are shutting down regarding "green" issues. I'd like to think it is because "green" is becoming very mainstream and being incorporated into everyday content.

Jay Wilson said...

Maybe they are shutting down, because no one is reading them. Doesn't matter how good content is if the topic doesn't attract consumers. With the mass failure of the "green" re-urbanization promise after events like Katrina or in inner-cities across the country, common folks (90% of the population) don't find it very interesting. With a terrible job market, most are much more concerned about a paycheck and feeding their families.

Tim said...


You raise some very good points, and I'm not exactly sure why EC shuttered either. Another reason I can think they did so was because the blog was never fully embraced by the 'green (social) media' community. EC was never fully able to divorce itself from the editorial bent of the WSJ--whether this was a function of the editorial board or the authors themselves.

Jay- You cite a "mass failure of the 'green' re-urbanization promise" that "common folks (90% of the population) don't find [it] very interesting." Do you have any sort of empirics to back up these claims? Because I have tons that suggest the total opposite. The thing I think you are missing the point that the "green re-urbanization" you suggest has failed on a mass scale doesn't hurt the job market, it helps it.