On The Future of Journalism

This is one of my favorite quotes. Few places do this quote ring more true than in the world of traditional media today, where the ‘learned’ continue to resist change and refuse to accept that some of their business models no longer make sense.

The Rosen Group conducted a recent survey of American readers about the state of current and future media, finding that nearly 80% of respondents still subscribe to magazines and 83% find that daily newspapers are still relevant. In the same survey, only 45% said they think newspapers and magazines will exist in 10 years, while 40% were uncertain.

While it’s easy to get distracted by the fact that consumers still subscribe, it’s nothing short of alarming that many don’t think newspapers and magazines – at least not in their current print bodies – will exist in 10 years. If that’s the case, what will the future of journalism look like for you and me? If the ‘learners’ have anything to say, it will look much different.

The Future of Journalism and Its New Business Models

Papers are not dying due to a lack of demand from consumers. Papers are not dying because of a lack of advertising interest. Granted, demand and advertising are declining for print formats, but they are far from dead. What’s killing newspapers – in general – is outdated business models and a lack of innovation.

Want to see the most innovative news organizations? Look at those papers that continue to crank out new editions every day. They are embracing new formats, testing new business models, and looking for ways to evolve to increase demand and advertiser appeal. In times of change, it’s the innovators who will survive. The next few years will be nothing short of fascinating, as bold publishers forge ahead with new business models that will forever change the media landscape. Among the most popular models being discussed today:

  • Hyper-local – new hyper-local news models will improve the quality of news in your zip code, a much-needed model when you consider the trend of failing newspapers around the country. Somebody has to pick up the slack. Look for new journalism startups like Patch to increase their efforts in a community near you.
  • Non-profit news models – news for the people, funded by the people. Organizations like National Public Radio, PBS, and C-SPAN have proved this model works, both from a business model and journalism quality point of view. Then there are efforts like Spot.Us, designed to give uncovered stories the attention they deserve. This model is a perfect example of journalism innovation at play today.
  • Citizen journalism – news for the people, literally by the people. Say what you want about citizen journalism, but it’s hard to deny its power when you see the success of applications like CNN’s user-generated iReport site.
  • Increased community focus – smart publishers realize you can’t just ship the paper or magazine anymore. Readers actually care about what you’re doing. More publishers will increase their focus on building strong, vibrant communities around their content. One great example of this approach in action is BusinessWeek’s BusinessExchange. BusinessExchange is a powerful social network that enables readers to share content, exchange ideas, and interact with the teams behind all of BusinessWeek’s great content.
  • Paid content – preserving the best content for those willing to pay for it. This option, while least popular with consumers, makes the most sense from a business standpoint – provided you have great content. PRWeek recently reduced the frequency of its issues, while locking up all of its premium content. As a subscriber, I was unphased by the changes. If I weren’t a subscriber, I would be one now, because I value their content. On the other hand, the price has to be right. I love Bulldog Reporter’s content too, I can’t bite the bullet on the $499 subscription price. Other more notable efforts around the topic of paid content include and Steven Brill’s Journalism Online – both geared towards helping publishers figure out more sustainable business models for the future.

The only real crisis in print journalism today is the unwillingness of some publishers to adapt to change. Those that continue to try to do things the way they’ve always done them will perish. Innovators will lead the charge to transform journalism as we know it. No one knows for sure what the future of journalism holds, but one thing is for sure, change is here to stay.

Other innovative journalism models to take a look at:

  • Newsvine – now part of MSNBC, the site offers revenue sharing for users who generate revenue from their content.
  • True/Slant – bills itself as an “original content news network” tailored to both the “New Journalist” and marketers who want a more effective way to engage with digital audiences.
  • Grist – another example of non-profit journalism at work, Grist provides environmental news and analysis.

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