Will CNN Buying Mashable Echo AOL’s TechCrunch Debacle?

A pioneering social media blog could be sunk by a sale to an old-media titan.

Here we go again. By the time you read this, it’s possible that CNN, as per the news out of SXSW, may have purchased the beloved social media and tech blog Mashable (for, according to the New York Times, in the vicinity of $20 million to $25 million) meaning … the end of Mashable as we know and love it?

Hyperbole? Pessimism? Possibly. But with very few exceptions, the history of “if you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em” journalism is as chock-full of success stories as the Washington Nationals.

But this is much more than just a big-guy-buys-little-guy story; this is an old-media-buys-new-media story of the AOL-buys-TechCrunch variety. (It should go without saying that the reverse of this trend, Facebook co-founder Christopher Hughes buying The New Republic is quite pleasantly blowing our minds.)

CNN—the epitome of the 24-hour cable network that kicked off daily newspapers’ slow march toward reduced relevance—has in recent years started to have its own lunch eaten by social media, the crowdsourced medium that’s at once news provider and news maker (see: Spring, Arab). Hell, even the recently so-disruptive non-social Internet (alas, poor blogosphere, we knew ye!) is taking it in the teeth from social media. So CNN, which has nary a Facebook or a Twitter icon on its homepage, is snatching up a social media expert. Which means that Mashable could go from being a singular, pioneering and, most importantly, independent blog covering tech and social media to a tiny piece of a behemoth that’ll try to get it to do things the CNN way. Will it lead to posts like this and like this in the future? Or will the lessons from the AOL/TechCrunch debacle be heeded?

For its part, CNN is not stupid in its alleged interest in a social media media partner. Social media has become more than just a driving force in the world at large; it’s become the driving force of search engine results thanks to Google’s “Panda Updates” which have eschewed gameable search criteria like link popularity and keyword density for social media recommendations that help it better gauge the quality of a site’s or page’s content. CNN’s interest is, ultimately, a nod to the future—a tacit acknowledgment that social media may finally be the panacea that allows the robots and algorithms that search the Internet for us to give us exactly what we want: the best content available. It could signal a return to the concept of content as king (rather than the content on the first page of search results, regardless of quality, as king).

Mashable is, by most objective standards, one of the best blogs on the Internet for coverage of social media and technology issues. How ironic indeed if this were to lead to its compromised relevance.