For generations, news creators have felt beholden to two options to generate the revenue necessary to sustain: advertising and paywalls. Modern business presents many new opportunities to generate money, if you're willing to look for value within the news organization beyond the content itself. Let's explore how business *really* works, and how/why modern news really needs to be trying to be a real business for a change.
In Do-gooders that they are, many journos and journo leaders view their role, and their industry ’ s role, as an entity of influence. The other estates, mind you are those of religious, political and financial power.
Historically, the other estates have been entities known to be businesses operating to gather and maintain power. Journalism, on the other hand, is meant to balance out the other “ powers ” , with a focus on delivering the truth. Not just information, but the truth. That ’ s the whole point of that “ journalistic integrity ” thing, right?
This statement contains a verb, and article, and a noun. In three words, it suggests what news is meant to do, and how it ’ s meant to do it. Unfortunately, it leaves out the most important part: who it ’ s meant to do it for.
In order to answer that question, I think that we need to get comfortable with a new assumption that overturns news as an estate, and instead, operate with the understanding that news is a business. Simply put, a business represents the possibility of an entity standing on its own two feet. A business is a means of sustenance, autonomy, and opportunity. Being a business means that journalists can provide a service , without being servants . Remember, most journalists got into this because they have a love of the truth and want to, even if in some small way, change the world for the better. so they don't think of it like a business. they'd prefer to think of it as a lofty calling to serve the public - which can be true. but it isn't, not the way things are structured now.
Before we go any further, let ’ s remind ourselves what a business is. A business, in its simplest form, is an entity that provides value in the form of goods and services, to a customer or customers, in exchange for money. Simply put - if you ’ re not doing that, YOU ’ RE NOT a business. If you are doing that, YOU ARE A BUSINESS.
So back to “ delivering the truth ” . Let ’ s look at delivering for a minute, the action of journalism. The action of delivering is the one that has taken on the biggest change in the last several hundred years. From pages and town criers (social servants), to the printing press, to the internet and other forms of mobile delivery.
Unlike the delivery mechanisms used to move it around, the idea of truth hasn ’ t changed much over the same period of time. Its value has, however. And more importantly, who its valuable to.
So we know what value we ’ re providing (truth) and how we ’ re doing that (some delivery mechanism), but the real question we ’ re left with is: who is the customer?
The customer, in simplest terms, is the one who pays. The problem is, the person who pays is the person that the business is now responsible to. The way things are currently structured, there are typically three entities that pay for journalism, and none of them are particularly advantageous for a news org to be responsible to.
Non-profit journalism is a model where, along with news-writing staff, the news organization typically needs to employ a staff grant writer (or writers) because it takes a LOT of extra work to have to prove your value to a beneficiary. Grant-powered projects are great as start-up operations, but they encapsulate an element of instability and dependency from the get-go, making the news agency in the business of acquiring grants almost as much as they are in the business of delivering the truth. In return, the beneficiary receives recognition and association with the do-goodery of the news entity.
Ah, advertising. The de-facto model for supporting content. In this model, the person paying for the content is actually, in many cases, NOT interested in the spreading of truth…they ’ re just interested in the spreading - to as many people as possible! This model made sense when the “ delivering ” part of “ delivering the truth ” had more value. Marketers could position their brands, and other businesses and messages, as payloads alongside the truth. Since all of the energy was going into distribution anyway, this model actually made sense.
Unfortunately, the cost of distribution continues to trend towards zero. “ News ” , with or without the benevolent goals of journos, is readily available everywhere. Advertising still has its place, and most certainly shouldn ’ t be ignored as supplimental income for news orgs. But it ’ s no longer appropriate for them to rely on it.
The final of the common customers is the reader. Often the most controversial of the options, subscriptions and paywalls seem to be the direction that many news organizations are heading. There are two fundamental issues with this model: First, for every paid article, there is a free equivilent that is “ good enough ” , and is more easily accessible by readers Two, most readers are far more comfortable paying for entertainment than the truth…since -lets be honest - more often than not, the truth sucks.
The million dollar question. Distribution is down, so that ’ s not the place to be charging readers for content. Advertising models are not only a dependency on a maligned 3rd party motive, but the value available for advertisers is also trending down with distribution. Operating on beneficiary dollars is simply inefficient and unsustainable. If you ’ ve let met away with everything I ’ ve said so far, I want to suggest a couple of alternatives. In order to find them, I had to ask myself a slightly different question that we should all be asking ourselves…
In business, we call this a “ market fit ” . Simply, there ’ s lots of great ideas…that don ’ t have anyone who is willing to pay for them. It doesn ’ t matter how much value you provide, the audience/market you ’ re providing for simply isn ’ t used to spending money, or spending money isn ’ t a priority for them. This leaves you with two options. Change the value, or change the audience.
Something very interesting has happened in parallel to all of the decline in news: businesses attitudes towards their customers have started to shift. Customers expectations of the companies they do business with has started to shift. This isn ’ t widespread YET, but it ’ s certainly a notable trend in business communications and interfaces. Businesses are taking note, and doing drastic things to keep themselves honest. Drastic things include spending money, lots of money.
Journalistic integrity has historically kept journos clean - but hasn ’ t done anything fundamental to keep the businesses that they cover on the level as well. Journalistic integrity comes with a lot of assets, and if upheld, could be deemed a value that businesses who are cleaning up their acts - or working hard to share that they never went sour in the first place - would potentially pay money for. Finally, we have a market fit.
“ But this opens the doors for corruption! ” , you shout. We could never knowingly do that to our readers! It ’ d cripple our integrity! Guess what. You ’ re already crippled. Stop viewing your “ journalistic integrity ” as a crutch or an excuse, and realize that it is an asset. More importantly, remember that there are lots of assets and values that news organizations can provide, and that “ content and distribution ” aren ’ t the only two things you can sell. Stop focusing on the finite number of bad things, and instead, on the infinite number of good things to come if news starts looking at itself as a business, the only way for it to truly innovate in a direction of sustainable independence.
Integrity. Sustainability. Transparency. Efficiency. News has never been at a better time to position itself with these values and not only have a lasting impact with the stories it covers, but a long-standing impact on the operations that allow those stories to be shared. Thank you.
Alex hillman businessweak
BUSINESS WEAK <ul><li>How News Needs to Get to Business. </li></ul>