An oral history of the epic collision between journalism and digital technology, 1980 to the present

A project of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy

Site map: Everything Riptide

There’s a lot to Riptide: a 50,000-word main essay, 61 interviews, over 460,000 words in transcripts. To make it all a bit more digestible, here’s an overview of all its pieces.

The essay

This essay, divided into an introduction and 15 chapters, ties together the most interesting elements of all of our interviews. It’s probably the first thing you should read. Here's a table of contents. And you can also download it all as a PDF.

Introduction: Setting the stage for an era of creative destruction in the news business.

Chapter 1: The Teletext​/​Videotex Era: When journalism companies invested heavily in early electronic consumer information services, and unalterably helped to set an industry on a collision course with the Internet.

Chapter 2: America Goes Online: While the established media giants were shutting down their costly early experiments with electronic distribution, a band of visionary online entrepreneurs were just getting started.

Chapter 3: The Big Bang: And then came the World Wide Web, which tore asunder traditional business models in news and information.

Chapter 4: The Original Sin: The story of free news on the web and why most news providers felt powerless to stop it.

Chapter 5: Then Came Cable: How the entrance by television news organizations into the battle for online audiences helped accelerate the shift in business models for news.

Chapter 6: The Return of Newspapers: By the mid 1990s, it looked like traditional media companies might be able to find a killer online business model that combined unfettered web distribution with successful advertising models.

Chapter 7: The Nerds and The Newsies: The culture clash between journalism and technology, and how a lack of engineering talent helped precipitate the decline of the traditional news business.

Chapter 8: The Innovator’s Dilemma: Traditional news providers may have viewed the web as a "sustaining innovation." But it was the newcomers who turned the Internet into an instrument of disruptive innovation.

Chapter 9: Birthing the Blogosphere: While most traditional media companies were using the web to push content to users, a new breed, known as bloggers, was experimenting with a more interactive, conversational model.

Chapter 10: The Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Later everyone recognized the dot-com boom as a bubble, but for a short period in the late 1990s it appeared that nearly every model would create successful business models for news online.

Chapter 11: From the Ashes: Amidst the wave of business destruction brought on by the dot-com bust, some of the most potent innovation bubbled up, setting the stage for major disruption in the industry.

Chapter 12: Google, The Second Coming: Google got off to an inconspicuous start in 1998 but would come to change everything, creating the world’s most powerful advertising platform.

Chapter 13: The Advertising Rollercoaster: Advertising budgets fluctuated wildly in the movement of from traditional outlets to the web, but the net effect was to swap dollars for dimes — a shift for which the industry has yet to find a financially satisfactory answer.

Chapter 14: Going Social and Paying to Play: As the Great Recession of 2008 hit the global economy, a new wave of innovation led by social networking, along with other new models for online communication and news, began to form.

Chapter 15: Time Will Tell: Where will the creative destruction in the news business take us? Several of our interview subjects look ahead to where the road may be leading.

Tech Beat: Reporters Covering the Digital Era Assess the News Business’s Struggle to Transform: Attendees at the annual PC Forum, Phoenix, Arizona, February 5-8, 1984. Among those pictured are, standing from left, Michele Preston, from L.F. Rothschild, Unterberg, Towbin, Bill Gates, from Microsoft, and Esther Dyson, from Rosen Research/EDventure. (Photo by Ann E. Yow-Dyson/Getty Images)

The interviews

The largest part of this site is taken up by the videos and transcripts of our 61 interviews. They range in length from 20 minutes to two hours, and they are an in-depth look at how one influential figure in the intersection of media and technology sees the changes of the past few decades. Take some time to explore.

Julia Angwin: investigative journalist, ProPublica — Tim Armstrong: CEO, AOL — Marty Baron: executive editor, The Washington Post — John Battelle: CEO, Federated Media — Emily Bell: director, Columbia University’s Tow Center — Tim Berners-Lee: inventor of the World Wide Web — Krishna Bharat: creator, Google News — Henry Blodget: founder, Business Insider — David Bradley: chairman, Atlantic Media — Deborah Branscum: freelance journalist and consultant — Hiawatha Bray: technology columnist, Boston Globe — Merrill Brown: founding editor, MSNBC — Denise Caruso: senior research scholar, Carnegie Mellon University — Steve Case: cofounder, AOL — Clay Christensen: professor, Harvard Business School — Dick Costolo: CEO, Twitter — Chris Cox: head of product, Facebook — Gordon Crovitz: former publisher, Wall Street Journal; cofounder, Press+ — Nick Denton: founder, Gawker Media — John Dvorak: columnist, and co-host of the NoAgenda podcast — Lewis DVorkin: chief product officer, Forbes Media — Esther Dyson: chairman, EDventure Holdings — Philip Elmer-Dewitt: technology columnist, — James Fallows: national correspondent, The Atlantic — Roger Fidler: former director of new media, Knight Ridder — Julius Genachowski: former chairman, Federal Communications Commission — Dan Gillmor: professor of practice, Arizona State University — Richard Gingras: head of news products, Google — Donald Graham: chairman and CEO, The Washington Post Co. — David Graves: former Yahoo and Reuters executive — Rob Grimshaw: managing director, — John Harris: editor-in-chief, Politico — Will Hearst: chairman, Hearst Corp. — Arianna Huffington: cofounder, The Huffington Post — Walter Isaacson: former chairman and CEO, CNN; former managing editor, Time — Jeff Jarvis: founder, Advance Interactive — Art Kern: former board member, Yahoo — Michael Kinsley: founder, Slate — Larry Kramer: founder, MarketWatch — Scott Kurnit: founder, — Ted Leonsis: former AOL executive — Gerald M. Levin: former chairman and CEO, Time Warner — Steven Levy: editor-in-chief, Medium / Backchannel — Caroline Little: CEO, Newspaper Association of America — Om Malik: founder, GigaOM — John Markoff: technology reporter, The New York Times — Brock Meeks: executive editor, Atlantic Media Strategies — Betsy Morgan: former CEO, The Huffington Post — Mike Moritz: chairman, Sequoia Capital — Walt Mossberg: co-executive editor, Re/code — Harry Motro: former CEO, Infoseek; former head, — Matt Mullenweg: creator, WordPress — Nicholas Negroponte: founder, MIT Media Lab — Steve Newhouse: chairman, Advance.Net — Martin Nisenholtz: former senior VP/digital operations, The New York Times Co. — Robert November: former VP, New York Times Information Bank — Jonah Peretti: founder, BuzzFeed — Mike Perlis: CEO, Forbes Media — David Pogue: vice-president, Yahoo Tech — Michelle Quinn: business columnist, San Jose Mercury News — Josh Quittner: editorial director, Flipboard — Evelyn Richards: former technology journalist, San Jose Mercury News and Washington Post — Ken Richieri: general counsel, The New York Times Co. — Tony Ridder: former chairman and CEO, Knight Ridder — Tom Rogers: former president, NBC Cable — Brent Schlender: co-author, "Becoming Steve Jobs" — Eric Schmidt: executive chairman, Google — Chris Schroeder: former CEO, Washingtonpost.­Newsweek Interactive — Doc Searls: coauthor, The Cluetrain Manifesto — Michael Sippey: former vice president for product, Twitter — Chloe Sladden: former head of media, Twitter — Justin Smith: former president, Atlantic Media — Martin Sorrell: CEO, WPP Group — Alan Spoon: former president, The Washington Post Co. — Andrew Sullivan: blogger; founder, The Dish — Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.: chairman, The New York Times Co.; publisher, The New York Times — Kara Swisher: co-executive editor, Re/code — Jim VandeHei: executive editor, Politico — Dave Winer: software developer and blogging pioneer — Scott Woelfel: cofounder and former editor-in-chief, — Kathy Yates: former Knight Ridder executive

The documents

We have begun to assemble a collection of key documents in the period we discuss: internal memos, key speeches, and the like. Check out the beginning of our document archive.

The timeline

To put the period we discuss into context, here is a timeline of some of what we believe are the key events in the intersection of media and technology.

The blog

Aside from our main essay, we put occasional updates and supplementary material on our blog.