Big Auto’s Failures Can Teach Us A Ton About Building A Better Future For News.

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” ― Henry Ford

 
In the late 1880s, Karl Benz built the first modern automobile. In 1908, the first Model T rolled off the assembly line.

And then came the dawn of a new age in America: The age of the automobile.

You know this part of the story.

When most people talk about the birth of the American auto movement, they talk about companies like Ford and Oldsmobile. They talk about the handful of companies that broke through and got their cars into driveways across America.

But they leave out names like Auto-Bug and Biddle and Vulcan, three of the 2,000-some car companies founded in America that have since closed their doors.

2,000 companies entered this space, and today, we’re left with about 15.

This is how it often works at the start of a big movement. In the wake of a breakthrough invention, there’s a rush of people who enter the field to offer up a product. Some survive; most don’t.

And new competitors enter the field, too. Henry Ford wasn’t thinking about skateboards or bikes or subways or buses or helicopters when he built the Model T, but today, they’re all players in the field of transportation.

The point is, at the start, it’s chaos. Over time, chaos weeds out much of the competition. Some companies innovate, but far more die off.

Out of many, few.

So here’s what it means for news:

Right now, we have the web. We’re still not sure how to make this thing work. But we’ve got lots and lots of people entering the field.

We know that what we’re doing really isn’t sustainable. We have readers; what we want are paying customers and partners.

But what I want right now is more competition. I want more people entering the field. I want more people bringing great ideas to the table.

Like Clay Shirky said: Nothing will work, but everything might.

We need more doers. We need more action. Most of us will fail, but that’s alright. It’s entirely possible — maybe even probable — that Stry.us will go the way of the Auto-Bug or the Biddle, just another company forgotten in time.

But in order to build a better future for storytelling, we have to actually do things. I so admire the 2,000 founders behind those initial car companies. They had the right idea, just the wrong luck or team or execution.

But they made something happen. I hope my colleagues in news don’t give in to the inevitability that many of us are going to die off, and that we’ll be left with a few big media conglomerates running the show.

We have to build. We have to create. We have to do.

The rush to build a better story is just beginning. This is no time to idle.

Image of the Model T at top via @erinslomski.