It’s easy to blame the internet and tech startups like Facebook and Google for the journalism crisis. The internet destroyed the old business model and tech startups stole the ad revenue that newspapers relied on to stay alive. It wasn’t the media industry’s fault — disruptors simply came into the market and took more than their fair share of the revenue.
While it’s easy and perhaps even comforting to think this way, it’s far from accurate. Yes, the internet and tech companies disrupted the media landscape, but they were able to do that for one simple reason — the news industry was complacent. As Jeremy Littau’s Slate article suggests, the crisis really began about a decade before the internet, much less Facebook, ever entered the picture.
Littau points out that news companies rode on huge profits and took on an irresponsible amount of debt for decades. They refused to invest in innovation. They focused on pleasing shareholders instead of their readers. They only accelerated their decline by laying off their talented staff. Journalists built connections in their communities, attracted readers to their content and convinced advertisers to pay top dollar for ad space.
“They should have safeguarded their connection to their community of readers who were their advertising golden goose.” – Jeremy Littau, Slate
In light of the massive layoffs at Buzzfeed, HuffPost and Gannett, it is important to understand where we really went wrong as an industry in the first place. Now, more than ever, we need to invest in innovation. We need to look at the layoffs as an opportunity to learn. Maybe we’re one step closer to finding a business model and a product that works. Maybe we’re one step closer to understanding what the news consumer is really looking for, what they might even be willing to pay for.
We know we have no choice but to innovate, but before we find a solution, we have to think about what makes journalism special. What’s our saving grace? Ken Doctor of NiemanLab tried to address this question in his article on how to rebuild the news media. Doctor believes that keeping our journalistic values at the center of our coverage is the answer. He points out that organizations like The New York Times, Vanity Fair and the Atlantic were rewarded for their values-focused journalism with increased subscription sales.
As a soon-to-be graduate, the concept of having to save the entire industry with an innovative, scalable idea is intimidating, to say the least. It’s not going to be enough for newly-minted journalists to report to the scene and tell the public what happened. We have a lot to prove and not a lot of time to do it. It’s both a terrifying and exciting time to enter the industry.
We have to think about the business side of journalism as much as our true love of reporting. We have to be brave and take a chance. If we don’t, we may find that there’s no longer an outlet for us to fulfill our dreams.