The News Tornado: Part 1

This is a sort of draft for a larger post on the news I’ve been meaning to write for some time. But I’m a procrastinator, and I need quick wins. So I decided to post some ideas, which will hopefully become a nicer post some time in the future.

I am very worried about the news.

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No, not that way…

That the news business is in a tipping point is no news. (No pun intended).

How so?

Old line news content producers/media, like the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, just to name two of the most famous entities, are struggling with their existing business models (print medium (a), ad revenues (b), paid access ©, ultra-high quality content (d)).

The bad content vicious cycle:

1) Customers are increasingly relying on online news, so print circulation is either stable or falling dramatically, depending on the property. Circulation is a measure of “eyeballs looking at ads” so ad revenues on print are also stable or falling.

2) Online is hard(er) to monetize. Online news consumers are tough to convince to pay for news, so the online portion of news makes very little money from paid access. So publishers are struggling to tweak an ad model that makes online news profitable.

3) Online news “circulation” is based on page views. Page views are the circulation of online news stories. Since people can skip from article to article, from property to property, at the blink of an eye, articles (this is how I’m calling one specific piece of content, which online means a page, or a story) are measured for their own “circulation.”

4) For the first time in the news business history, editors, can really measure which articles are being read, and even more specifically, truly understand what drives article “circulation,” or page views.

5) News organizations that are trying to produce online content to compensate for falling off-line/print revenues have an incentive to produce more of what’s “hot,” and less of what’s “not.”

6) Guess what? Stupid stuff are “hot.” Great news content is “not.” Let me explain: great pieces of coverage (think Pulitzer material) doesn’t generate a lot of traffic. Cat pictures, 10-item lists, slide shows, and gossip, do generate a lot of traffic.

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Stuff like this…

**So basically, in this new media/news/publishing landscape, NYT is punished with less revenues, while bad content producers, that cater to human beings lesser needs, like Buzzfeed, make a lot of money.

I think you’re getting a sense that I think less of Buzzfeed than of the New York Times right? Indeed I do.

High-quality journalism is very important for society. It creates transparency, it enforces democracy, it exposes excesses, it counter-balances government power, it enlightens minds. Buzzfeed-style “journalism,” on the other hand, has very low standards (like sources, fact-checking, etc), produces low quality, irrelevant content.**

7) With less revenues, institutions like the NYC have less money to invest in content creation. They have to downsize news staff, close overseas offices, and so in general terms, produce less and less high quality journalism.

8) Meanwhile, some new institutions, like Business Insider, are tackling news with that new kind of business model, focused on page views and ad revenues, and trying to strike a balance between acceptable quality and high page views, leading to headlines such as “10 things you didn’t know about Elon Musk” or “Is Microsoft going to go bankrupt?”

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9) Some high quality news institutions, like NYT, are sticking to their principles, but some day they will have to succumb to page views-focused online journalism, and that’s when we’ll see top-10-type articles on its website. After all, they have to pay their bills.

 
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