The Future of the News Business

Those of us in the news industry were happy to see that the 2010s move by. For every one of the alarmist talk about the damage done to the global market from the subprime mortgage crisis to the Northern Rock crisis we could see an America on the rebound. It’s astonishing to remember that even when there was a downturn nobody in the politics or media has been calling for any tariffs or other protectionist measures to be brought in to help the American market. Perhaps the downturn is over and we’re just now recovering. However, the signs are all there, and they’re good.

There was lots of finger pointing and political rhetoric leading up to the election of Obama however journalists were astonished at the number of people voted for him. This was a big surprise to the news industry because a lot of felt it was their duty to get Obama to the White House on the ticket. No president has ever won with such a low voter approval rating. The lesson isn’t that journalists do not know what they are doing, but voters do not care what they think. Perhaps they do not care if the politicians tell them exactly what to write about.

What really matters to a news company is the quality of the journalism. If your journalism is poor, you aren’t likely to build up customer loyalty, publish accurate and intriguing stories, bring advertising dollars, or keep a readership. The digital disruption is here to stay. There are several ways that the online explosion of websites, communications and information is changing the way the news business does business. The change is dramatic, profound and long term.

Some worry that the upcoming changes in how journalists cover government and industry problems will harm the news business and its ability to serve clients and keep a solid readership. I have some concerns about this, also. In reality, among the biggest fears I have as a writer and editor is that journalists and newspapers might have to go”down the news route” to stay credible. That would mean less than great copy, tons of boring reporting that is rarely interesting or topical.

But that is most likely a brief view of the situation. I am also worried about the possible impact on traditional journalism which will arise in the increasing reliance on social networks such as Facebook and Google. The debut of smartphone devices with digital camera capabilities and social media capabilities has considerably reduced the demand for broadcast and print media. Consequently, the influence on the news business will be enormous.

The primary impact will be reduced earnings. Many newspapers and magazines are already losing money because they’ve stopped publishing due to the lack of earnings generated by the conventional model. In some cases, the conventional model is being substituted by revenue-sharing agreements with news company owners. These owners normally are wealthy individuals with deep pockets that have multiple sites and regularly upgrade their revenue units accordingly.

The second effect is the effect on the nonprofit and charity industry. For decades, the information business has focused its earnings efforts on the commercial model, which generated a modest income for the publishers. However, this version is not sustainable in the long term. With fewer people relying upon print for their first news story, nonprofit and charity news publishers are having a decline in subscriptions. It’s not clear if this trend will reverse or continue, but it is clear that the future of the news business lies in new areas.

If the current trends continue, the future of the news businesses and the news sector could look very different ten years from now. News companies may still need to adjust their revenue models, but it isn’t probable that they will do so dramatically. A changing environment will surely create additional challenges. But additionally, it will create opportunity. Traditional paper and magazine publishers may discover new strategies to increase their earnings if they adopt new models which are more sustainable and innovative.