It’s common to hear journalists, media execs and venture investors say, “the business model for journalism is broken.” But the business model is slowly righting itself.
Print journalism was in the past funded by a combination of revenue streams: brand advertising, patrons, subscriptions, events and the gold mine, the platform business of classifieds. In the past two decades, those revenue streams were squarely hit on two fronts. New media companies thrived by scaling and controlling the platform idea. And when the Internet rammed into the newspaper world, the obsession with click counting overtook brand advertising. Journalism sold itself too cheap in a world turned topsy-turvy.
But it has been obvious all along that we needed journalism, even if we don’t always like it. Our democracy needed it — that’s clear. But businesses, politicians and communities (and publishers who wanted to make a mark on the public conversation) had a need for the other services journalistic media delivers, from caché, to events, to information.
Now, you see companies from Chalkbeat to The Information to Axios (to Times of E!) putting the old revenue streams together in new and creative ways. The social media companies that grew out of the old classifieds idea have thrived beyond imagining — but no doubt even their hegemony will be disrupted by government or an upstart.
But there’s one part of the journalism picture that does not seem to be restoring itself: The profession. Journalists used to be disconnected from the question of how many people read their stories. Decisions were made as editors, reporters and publishers figured what people needed to read and wanted to read. And they served audiences that weren’t well defined. It was an impressionistic world, and imperfect.
But it was better than what we have today, when most journalists pay way too much attention to the traffic numbers on their stories and the size of their social media followings. It’s human — but I see it happening even in media outlets where journalists have very secure jobs. (It is probably no coincidence that many of today’s prominent journalists come from celebrity families.) This is the personal version of the flawed cheap click models that did so much damage to brand advertising in the early days of the Internet.
The business model of journalism is righting itself. The profession will take longer.
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