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It's time for journalists to get business savvy, says new report on U.S. digital journalism

Journalists need to better understand the business side of things, says a report released Tuesday, May 10. The report on the state of digital journalism from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University calls on journalists to re-think their relationship with advertisers, according to The New York Times.

The report, "The Story So Far: What We Know about the Business of Digital Journalism," addresses the question: "What kinds of digitally based journalism in the U.S. is the commercial market likely to support, and how?"

“We’re not suggesting that journalists get marching orders from advertisers,” said Bill Grueskin, the academic dean for the journalism school and a co-author of the report, as quoted by the NY Times. “We are suggesting that journalists get a much better understanding of why so many advertising dollars have left the traditional news media business.”

As Staci D. Kramer wrote for Paid Content, the "saga of digital journalism as a business (or a lack of one)...isn’t all dismal but it isn’t pretty."

The 143-page report concludes that legacy media platforms -- print -- should not be abandoned or dismissed. Still, "many sectors of the traditional news industry have been slow to embrace changes brought on by digital technology," the study said. As such, the report offers several recommendations:

-- Media companies should redefine the relationship between audience and advertising: "Journalists must make a fuller commitment to understanding the audiences they have and the ones they want, and to revamping their digital offerings to ensure deeper loyalty."
-- Media companies ought to rethink their relationships with advertisers: "This doesn’t mean allowing them to dictate coverage or news priorities. It does mean understanding that advertisers now have many more ways to reach customers than they used to and that some of these methods, such as social media, can be cheap and effective."
-- Create separate digital staffs, especially on the business side of operations.
-- Rethink aggregation and how best to use links to engage readers.
-- Place many "small bets" on mobile platform ventures and the "the probability increases that one will win."
-- Companies that adopt paywalls "should have very limited expectations for its success."

Bill Mitchell for Poynter offers three "takeaways" from the report about audience, advertising and aggregation.

The report illustrates the importance of doing business in "dramatically different ways," wrote Jan Schaffer for the Columbia Journalism Review. This might mean narrowing your focus to a niche area and partnering with other outlets to cover what you can't, nurturing the nickels -- not just dimes -- because "multiple revenue streams begin to add up," collaborating with competitors, and asking the public to be "media players" rather than advertisers, subscribers, donors, funders, or citizen journalists. These media players would be "charged with being good stewards of a robust local news and information landscape," she wrote.

As the report says: "We are likely to see a world of more and smaller news organizations, the most successful of which will leverage their staffs and audience by using aggregation, curation and partnerships with audiences to provide content of genuine value."

Other Related Headlines:
» Reuters (The business of digital journalism)


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