Monday, February 27, 2017

The Business of Real News

 UPDATE: Trump Bump Grows Into Subscription Surge -- and Not Just for the New York Times  Ken Doctor reports. (Newsonomics)

Who’d have thought we’d see in our lifetimes the demise of traditional newspapers? That’s what a long-time local reporter said a few years ago before the last issue of the daily Seattle Post-Intelligencer was printed. Today, the Trump Administration is happy to see that demise run its course, calling those who report real news “the enemies of the people” and barring them from last Friday’s news briefing. But, when that demise comes, America will not be great again.

That demise won’t come as a result of the histrionics of Trump and his minions. Those theatrics serve to inflame outrage and distract attention away from real issues. Reporters and editors of the national news and any state and local media worthy of their journalism titles will continue to report real news. Will the news be political? Yes it will, to the extent that the news reports the business of the people.

The demise of traditional newspapers, when it comes, comes because the business model is no longer sustainable. When revenue from subscriptions and advertising does not sufficiently pay for operating expenses and doesn’t provide an acceptable return on investment, the business fails. The traditional business model of delivering readers to paying advertiser no longer addresses a media world of 24/7 news cycles, decentralized information sources and evolving readership tastes and styles. Not much of a future for horse buggies after automobiles came on the market. Not much of a future for traditional print newspapers after the internet came on the scene.

The new business model for traditional news publications is a strategic shift to pay-to-view digital content enhanced by multi-media and personalized life-style services. Advertising revenue remains important but marketing news content and services to paying subscribers in a 24/7 digital environment is where traditional news media will go in its new form to survive. It’s a big risk but we’ve know for quite a while that the old business model was a dead end.

Easy to say but hard to do. Take a look at the New York Times digital edition and appreciate the tremendous amount of resources going into both producing the product and marketing the product in order to grow and remain competitive. Take a look at the digital edition of your local news publication and try to see whether it can grow and remain competitive in today’s and tomorrow’s media business. Our world and our society will be a much more dark and dangerous place without real news to inform our civic decisions but the rhetoric of ‘freedom of the press’ and ‘voice of democracy’ means little if we forget that the news business is a business.

If you like a business, you support that business as a customer. You subscribe and pay for the news content and services. And you support the businesses that advertise in the publication. Like any other business, if you like the service you’re getting, you continue doing business; if not, you complain and, if service doesn’t improve, you take your business elsewhere.

Trump by engaging in real news media bashing (‘enemy of the people,’ ‘failing New York Times’) has done a great job to galvanize support for real news journalism. The New York Times is not going to fail and neither is the Washington Post; more people have subscribed, just as support for Planned Parenthood increases with every presidential and congressional assault on women’s reproductive rights.

Wait until Scott Pruitt begins dismantling the EPA and environmental groups and their people fight back.

(A year’s full digital access to publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post and local daily papers in the region costs about $100. The New York Times provides a first-year discount of 50%. Independent news publications like Crosscut, Investigate West and Honolulu Civic Beat do not charge for content and are not businesses per se but, like National Public Radio stations, welcome donations to pay operating expenses.)

--Mike Sato

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