Not Your Grandma’s Journalism: A Grim Look at Economics from a Doe-Eyed J Schooler

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In the first chapter of The Vanishing Newspaper, Philip Meyer states, “the best way to ensure the future of newspapers would have been to conserve their influence and pay the costs of the radical experimentation needed to learn what new media forms would be viable.”  I agree with Meyer’s statement but am also acutely aware that preserving influence in this new age of radical experimentation is easier said than done. Meyer asserts that while new technology does allow for a faster, cheaper, more durable product, it also leads to a confused audience lost in the land of sensory overload.

A central question that has formed in my mind: Can journalism still deliver a quality product using today’s electronic channels that is relevant, meaningful and profitable? There may not be a clear answer but possible solutions lie in the models and strategies outlined in Meyer’s The Vanishing Newspaper.

Meyer examines the societal influence model, which serves to provide an economic rationale for journalists’ fulfillment of civic duty. Through the investment of quality resources, publications are able to produce a quality product. This product either creates trust or strengthens already present trust and leads to increased readership, more advertisement opportunities and ultimately, the golden egg of profit. This model proposed by Knight Ridder’s Hal Jurgensmeyer is a logical business strategy but does not account for increased trust leading to monopoly and also neglects the reality that many newspapers no longer have the funds to increase resources.

Therefore, we transition into the goose and the golden egg scenario Meyer describes in the second chapter of The Vanishing Newspaper.  Meyer offers two models for newspaper owners. The first one is the harvest model, which focuses on short-term investments that have immediate rewards but future concealed costs. The second one is the nurturing model, which encourages owners to accept this new reality of competition and change and focus on improving their products to fit the electronic delivery market.

As the New York Times and more localized publications place their news behind pay walls, there is the concern that journalists will let quality suffer due to the fact that electronic distribution is produced at no variable cost. However, I believe in the future success of the entrepreneurs that view this change as an opportunity instead of a threat and are willing to take current risks and settle for rewards that may not happen for several years. I personally think journalists should accept that news is no longer a linear relationship and look for unique, creative ways to deliver news in this ecosystem of opportunity.

In the chapter titled “Saving Journalism” as well as in the 2013 State of the Media reports, it is clear that journalists have reasons to be optimistic but should know that the hard numbers don’t lie. Meyer points out that entrepreneurial risk takers need more than an income as compensation for their efforts. They need their news product to have value and meaning.  This balance of profit and public journalism is really put to the test on the Internet where, as Meyer puts it, there are “low costs and anyone can play.”

In “Newspapers: Stabilizing, But Still Threatened,” it is evident that while the new pay wall system seems to be working okay at the moment, it does not take away from the ugly reality that downsizing and cutbacks are covering the industry like an outbreak of weeds. Digital advertising does not seem to be making up for the loss of print advertisement, which implies a long lasting game of catch-up is set to happen over the next decade.

In looking at the television side, viewership and advertising are at low levels, which suggest that the Internet is consuming this form of media in the same way it did with print. An important factor in this digital shift is clearly the increased use of mobile devices to consume news. Not only are journalists going to face the pressures and difficulties of switching to electronic delivery in general, they will also have to acquire the in-depth skill sets that ensure readers can consume the news on phones and tablets. From an optimistic standpoint, I believe this need allows for more job opportunities for those who can master social media and other components that come with this digital shift.

The major concern always seems to rotate back to gaining profit without loss of trust. I appreciate Philip Meyer’s reference to Henry Ford’s sentiment that profit will be a natural byproduct of a well-performed service to society. I hope this sentiment will hold true as more and more doe-eyed journalists are hurled into this tumultuous digital era.