The Economic State of Journalism

As we all know, modern journalism is in a quasi-state of decay. That is, traditional print media, in trying to keep up with fancy digital media, is quickly making moves to transition into the digital domain, yet is still falling behind. Digital media, meanwhile, seems unable to support itself on its own, as issues with management usually force companies into positions of economic difficulty. That’s not to say it’s impossible for a completely digital company to succeed, though. Vice Media, for example, is a successful and thriving news organization. But I personally believe it’s because they are willing to report on things traditional media isn’t. After all, the New York Times doesn’t have a NSFW section devoted to topics like what sex is like on different drugs or workplace interviews with pornstars.

On that subject, there are different ways of managing revenue streams for news organizations. The big ones, like NYT, use paywalls to limit access to content. If you want to read the paper, you have to be an online subscriber. Other, more open news organizations rely on digital advertising. But that can’t be all there is to it, right? Rick Edmonds, writing for Poynter.org, says that there are a few ways to ensure the continued success of a digital news organization:

Manage the digital and legacy businesses separately.
Keep developing niche editorial products.
Decentralize decision-making power.
Establish the digital agency as an independent business.
Rebuild your editorial philosophy around what you do best.
Don’t give up on print.

I can understand where Vice fits into this program. They develop niche editorial projects, their digital agency is its own business, and they don’t really stray from their philosophy. Meanwhile, $28 million company Gigaom Media closes down barely a year after they started, without any warning to staff, because they can’t pay back their creditors. The key to surviving seems to be a mix between keeping the old business while integrating it with new practices of the digital age.

Will journalism prevail? Absolutely. The fact is, we need journalists to tell us what’s going on in the world. The only thing that will change is the definition of journalist, but not journalism itself.

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