The recession killed journalism – and saved it
Media business in overdrive - but it’s now pushing pixels, not paper / by Paul Smalera
- Series: SPECIAL GUESTS – views & voices
Actually, scratch part of that last sentence, because less ink has been spilled, at least according to the results of a recent report by LinkedIn. The media business has been in overdrive, especially during this 2012 election season, but it’s now pushing pixels, not paper.
According to the data studied by LinkedIn, the professional social network, the newspaper industry experienced a 28.4 percent shrink rate between 2007 and 2011. The death of newspapers is not exactly a new phenomenon, so I’ll spare you yet another detailed recap of the print and economic climate that led to this broadsheet apocalypse.
Newspapers in descent
In other words, reports of the media’s death are premature, at best. But more important, it’s unfair for any old-media advocate to say that the revenue model for media (or any industry moving toward digital) is broken. Yes, the companies and publications that power media look quite different than they used to, but these news organizations are still reporting the news.
From paper to digital
The lesson online media companies have taken from newspapers’ slow, public death is to move beyond the idea of selling the product. Online sites are selling their audience. It’s a simple twist of the equation, but one that changes everything about how a media company is run. A CEO who has realized that her audience – her customers – is the most important thing the company has will stop at nothing to give those customers what they want. Anything to make them feel as if they’re getting value from the company. And although she’ll monetize their aggregate value with advertisers and marketers, she’ll also protect them from underhanded sales pitches or confusing pricing strategies that infuriate the web-savvy.
Online is not more "real"
What has changed about journalism in the digital era is the near-instant feedback the best-of-breed companies have regarding whether their audience is actually paying attention. All online media companies invest in real-time analytics; the best online media companies crunch the hell out of the numbers to understand their audience. Some print nostalgics treat the mere existence of this data as a mortal sin that eventually warps all journalists into pageview chasing producers of bikini slideshows.
But when reporters do groundbreaking journalism, they get email and comments from readers and interested parties. When their work is very good it often becomes the basis for documentaries or books. Newspapers have benefited from this halo effect for years – they just haven’t quantified it. Leave it to an industry of sentence writers to be afraid of attaching numbers to their feedback.
Print had to suffer to let digital grow
In a different world, the two dots at the top and bottom of the LinkedIn chart wouldn’t exist. Instead you’d see one dot in the middle, as newspapers shifted more resources and employees toward their digital efforts. But companies don’t often work that way – they get caught in the Valley of Death – the one Harvard business professor and Silicon Valley guru Clayton Christensen has written about in countless books and articles. Instead of innovating for the next business cycle, these companies die crossing the Valley, wringing every last drop of cash out of the last cycle, leaving holes in the economy that startups try to fill. And there’s just no reason to think newspapers as they exist today can reverse course or buck that trend.
Teaser by Genista, flickr commons Lizenz
Foto 1 by Image Editor, flickr commons Lizenz
Foto 2 by I'm George, flickr commons Lizenz
Foto 3 by NS Newsflash, flickr commons Lizenz