The Future Of The Journalism Business (Part One Of Many)

Everyone knows by now that the traditional business model of journalism is no longer viable. However, publishing and disseminating information is easier than ever before, and there is no lack of interested eyeballs for this information. Someone is going to figure out how to monetize these eyeballs, and the person that does will change the game.

My former professor Marc Cooper reported on his Facebook page on the buzzword bingo happening at the Online News Association conference in Atlanta, which confirmed that no one talking about bounce rates and engagement levels will be that game changer. This post was adapted from my comments in the discussion on his page:

In the short to medium term, I do think the only sustainable structure for non-TV journalism is Knight or other types with FU money like Bezos, Omidyar and Qatar, because they can eat red ink and play a long game while holding on to valuable reportorial assets. Call this the Medici model. Publicly-traded outlets that need to show quarterly profits are in trouble, and are currently in the last throes of their race to the bottom. Too many legacy papers are putting out journalism on a budget, and the value of such journalism is evident in its quality.

I definitely see social media cannibalizing low-hanging print/online journalism. Twitter can handle the Renaissance Fair or an overturned fire truck. The L.A. Times doesn’t need to send someone out there and bring in a UCLA or USC traffic expert to tell us that a flipped truck will make our commute longer.

I don’t see amateurs on social media ever being able to replace journalism with real access, insight or expertise. Ultimately, the serious audience will want important people to be interviewed by prepared and knowledgeable reporters capable of asking the right questions, and they’d rather have their economic and political analysis done by relative experts. I can’t imagine this serious audience (which I think based on size and demographics carries real economic weight) would tolerate this type of journalism done by “social media experts” or kids making $24,000. It just wouldn’t cut it, and it would open up a place in the market for someone to do it right and reap the financial rewards.

I think the key is to separate the county fair stuff from the policy analysis stuff, because they are going in different directions anyway. BuzzFeed combines deep political reporting with viral videos and listicles. They don’t even bother with view from nowhere stenography, and it seems to be working well enough for them.

But really, nobody knows how this is going to go. Maybe Pierre Omidyar.