Category Archives: Business of journalism

Who should we invite to the Oxford Editor and CEO Forum next year?

Good company...

Good company…

Re-reading summary notes from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Oxford Editor and CEO Forum last week. Chatham House Rules etc, so I will just quote the official RISJ post about the event—

Editors in Chief and CEOs from 10 countries for 24 hours of in-depth and off the record discussions on some of the key opportunities and challenges involved in running a news organisation in the 21st century.

The forum included participants from India (the Hindu), Japan (the Asahi Shimbun) and Latin America (La Nacion from Argentina) but with the majority from Europe (the Irish Times, Le Monde, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Berlingske, the Huffington Post Italy, the Guardian and the Financial Times.)

Issues covered included the implications for journalism of the Edward Snowden affair, different approaches to paying for news online, the challenges of innovation in legacy news organisations, to the debate around sponsored content and the rules that should surround that.

I thought it was a very good discussion, but we are always looking for ways of improving.

We plan to arrange another Forum next year, so the question really is, who should we invite?

The focus will remain on private sector news organizations and retain at least a partial emphasis on the business of journalism, but as long as it doesn’t bring together people so far apart it reduce the conversation to conflict, it would be good with more disruptors to add to what legacy media bring to the table.

I’m thinking maybe someone from the advertising world, certainly someone from tech, and more pure players.

Email, DM, etc me with ideas—all welcome.

What are the keystone media in our information environment?

Later this month, I’m presenting a paper called “The Increasing Importance of Diminished Newspapers for Local Journalism?” at a conference on local journalism I’m organizing with Robert Picard at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

In the paper, I show how despite the fact that it is no longer a “mainstream medium” in terms of audience reach, the local newspaper in the community I study (Næstved, a mid-sized provincial Danish municipality with a population of 81,000) plays an absolutely central role in the wider local political information environment as by far the most important producer of ongoing, original, independently reported news about local affairs.

From the content I have coded, the newspaper accounts for 64% of all coverage of local politics, even in a community also served by two licence-fee funded regional public service broadcasters, several weekly freesheets, a community radio station, and shot through with national and international media as well as global online media like Google and Facebook. Furthermore, much of the (limited) local news content published by other media can be traced back to the newspaper.

I call the newspaper a “keystone medium” in the local political information environment, drawing an analogy to the idea of “keystone species” in conservation biology and zoology. There, the term is meant to capture the critical importance of particular species, who despite being only a small part of a larger interconnected ecology play an outsize role in defining the state and structure of the wider environment. In parallel, I define “keystone media” not in terms of their reach or ubiquity, but in terms of their systemic importance, their importance not for the majority of media users, but for the wider information environment they live in.

I’m thinking the notion of “keystone media” is a useful way of capturing the outsize importance of some entities in a wider environment and that it is an idea that works not only at the local level, but also nationally and internationally (think about news agencies, for example).

I’m not the first to point to the empirical fact that newspapers in many places play a central role in the production of news at the local level. In the US, for example the Project for Excellence in Journalism has done this in a study of Baltimore, Chris Anderson has done this in his great book on Philadelphia, and a series of community information case studies orchestrated by Tom Glaysier when he was still at the New America Foundation has done it.

But what I wanted to do is to make two particular points based on a close study on what sources of information are actually used in my case community and the information that these sources in turn produce and publish.

(1) Though the local newspaper is diminished in terms of reach and resources, it is ironically becoming more important for local information provision as other media pull out and cut their investment and no new providers have emerged. This is not simply a point about volume of production, but also about the environment in which things are produced.

(2) In community case studies done in the US people have generally found a vast ecology of other media outlets reusing and commenting upon news originally produced by local newspapers. That is not the case in the community studied here. Though several of the most widely used media sources of information about local politics in the community (including the regional public service broadcasters) in part base their coverage on stories first covered by the local newspaper, most of what the local newspaper covers does not make it any further in the news “food chain”–it is covered there, and nowhere else. Again, this is not simply a point about the newspaper, but about the environment in which it exists.

The notion of “keystone media” is meant to capture the structural (ecological, if you will) consequences of there being a newspaper in this community rather than there not being one (as in conservation biology).

The true importance of the paper in this community case study lies not in its role as a source of information seen from the users’ point of view (though about a third of the respondents in my survey data read the paper, very few identify the newspaper as their only important source of information about local politics), but as a producer of information that (a) matters because a small minority of it underlies the content produced by other media more widely used in the community but also, importantly, (b) matters because it is there at all, even when it has a limited readership and is not re-used and commented on elsewhere. (And we know from much media research that news coverage of public affairs can affect how politicians and government authorities behave even when the coverage does not routinely reach a large audience–the shadow of publicity is sometimes enough.)

In a time of more and more media, the local newspaper in this case play a structuring role for the entire local political information environment because–though it is only one of many media used as a source of information by citizens, and not a particularly widely used one–it is increasingly the only organization doing ongoing on-the-ground reporting on local public affairs. (Despite Danes having some of the highest levels of internet use and digital device ownership in the world, as well as being avid “joiners” in Robert Putnam’s parlance, active in any number of civic associations, Denmark has not seen the emergence very many significant non-profit or hyperlocal online-only news sources.)

In short, it plays a role as what I am currently thinking of as that of “keystone media” in our political information environments.

The full paper abstract is below. The paper is based on data from a larger research project on local political communication and municipal democracy in a changing media environment that I am pursuing with Nina Blom Andersen and Pernille Almlund from Roskilde University. This is work in progress, so I’d be curious to hear of people working with related ideas or people who think this is nonsense.

The increased importance of diminished newspapers for local journalism? – a case study of sources and producers of information in a digitally connected community

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Roskilde University and the University of Oxford

Paper for “Local journalism around the world: professional practices, economic foundations, and political implications”, February 27-28, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford.

ABSTRACT

On the basis of a mixed-method study combining survey data, content analysis, and semi-structured interviews done in a strategically chosen case community in Denmark, this paper shows that the local daily newspaper, despite its diminished audience reach and editorial resources, has become an increasingly important node in the circulation of independent and professionally produced news about local affairs as other news organizations have pulled out of the locality and no new providers have emerged. Citizens in the community studied have access to more and more media, but less and less news, most of it originating with a single news organization—the local daily newspaper. The study suggests that local newspapers—reporting across platforms but still sustained by their eroding print business—despite the well-known challenges they face in a changing and increasingly digital media environment, despite their dwindling editorial resources, and despite their diminished reach, may thus ironically become more important for local journalism as our media environment change, because they increasingly are the only organizations doing ongoing on-the-ground reporting on local public affairs. They are not so much mainstream media—for the majority does not rely directly on them for information, and most of what they produce is disseminated no farther than to their own readers—as keystone media in a local information environment, playing a critical role in the production and circulation of information with ecological consequences well beyond their own audience.

Local journalism around the world: professional practices, economic foundations, and political implications

Below the program for a conference I’m organizing with Professor Robert G. Picard at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism on local journalism, to be held at the end of the month. Tons of interesting stuff being presented, much to be discussed as we tend to focus on developments in international and national journalism though of course much of the profession and industry remains local and regional and journalism plays an important role in many local communities.

Local journalism around the world: professional practices, economic foundations, and political implications

February 26-28, 2014RISJ

Conference hashtag #localjourn

 

Conference overview

Most journalism is practiced—and most news media organizations are based—at the local level. Yet journalism studies overwhelmingly focus on national and international journalism and most debates over the future of journalism remains oriented towards a limited number of exceptional and often nationally or internationally-oriented news media organizations. This focus limits our ability to understand journalism and its role in society. This conference focuses on local journalism around the world, exploring professional practices, economic foundations, and the social and political implications of local journalism as it is actually practiced today.

The conference is focused in particular on how local journalism is impacted by current technological changes, changes in the media industries, and changed in local communities and local governments. It includes both case studies and comparative analysis, both within-country comparisons between different regions and cross-country comparisons between local journalism in different national contexts.

The conference is focused on empirically-based work that advances our understanding of local journalism both within and across individual countries, and brings together 32 papers presenting research on 16 countries around the world.

The presenters deal with topics including the work conditions and everyday practices of local journalists, relations between local journalists and local business and political elites, the role of local media as part of communities, the journalistic, economic, and democratic track-record of locally-oriented media of various kinds, the role of social networking sites and new mobile media in local news production and use, how existing local and regional news organizations are dealing with current changes in the media business, and with new alternatives to established forms of local journalism (including hyperlocal websites and local non-profits).

Conference organizers

Professor Robert G. Picard, Director of Research, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Associate Professor of Political Communication, Roskilde University and Research Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

 

Program Details

Thursday February 27th (8.30-18.00)

Panel I – Local communicative spaces and media systems (9.15 – 11)

Rethinking local communicative spaces (Julie Firmstone and Stephen Coleman)

Normalization of journalism in local and regional American news systems (David Ryfe)

Increased importance of diminished newspapers for local journalism? (Rasmus Kleis Nielsen)

Local pure players in Southern France between journalistic diversity and economic constraints (Nikos Smyrnaios, Emmanuel Marty & Franck Bousquet)

Panel II – Local media ecosystems (11.15-13.00)

Mapping Local Media Ecosystems: A Comparative, Longitudinal, Cross-National Perspective (C. W. Anderson, Nancy Thumim, and Stephen Coleman)

Adaptation and innovation in metropolitan journalism: A comparative analysis of Toulouse, France and Seattle, Washington (USA) (Matt Powers, Sandra Vera Zambrano and Olivier Baisnee)

Narrating multiculturalism in Brussels (Florence Le Cam and David Domingo)

Ecosystem model applied to local media markets (Piet Bakker)

Panel III – Local journalism and local communities (14.00-15.45)

Are local newspaper chains local media? (Lenka Waschkova Cisarova)

Is it really homegrown? Understanding ‘local’ news in the digital age (Kristy Hess and Lisa Waller)

“Local” and “news” redefined (Bengt Engan)

Value of Hyperlocal Community News (Andy Williams, Dave Hart, Jerome Turner, Glyn Mottershead)

Panel IV – Local journalism opportunities (16.00-18.00)

Local identity in Print and Online News (Helle Sjoevag)

Localism as the new -ism? (Birgit Roe Mathiesen)

Local journalism–how online opportunities change professional practices (Sonja Kretzschmar and Verena Wassink)

I would cover this scandal if only I had the time (Roman Hummel, Susanne Kirchoff and Dimitri Prander)

Exploitation of technological developments from the Greek regional newspapers (Ioannis Angelou, Vasileios Katsaras and Andreas Veglis)

Friday February 28th (8.30-16.30)

Panel V – The business of local journalism (9.00-11.00)

Business approach and motivation of hyperlocals in the Netherlands (Marco van Kerkhoven and Piet Bakker)

Re-Inventing the Business of Community Journalism: New Models for the Digital Era (Penny Abernathy)

Evaluating Strategic Approaches to Competitive Displacement (Dobin Yim)

Local journalism as a business: comparative perspectives on commercial television stations in Serbia (Aleksanra Krstic)

Successful business models in local dailies (Antonis Skamnakis and George Tsouvakas)

Panel VI – Local journalism practices (11.15-13.15)

A print crisis or a local crisis (Ingela Wadbring and Annika Bergsstrom)

Local data journalism for newspapers in Germany (Andre Haller)

Participatory journalism in local newspapers in Germany (Annika Sehl)

Regional networking or not–use of Facebook by Dutch regional news media and their audiences (Sanne Hille and Piet Bakker)

Hyper local online media and influence of local politics in Dubrovnik (Mato Brautovic)

Panel VII – Local journalism in transition (14.00-16.00)

Intent and Practice are Seldom the Same Thing–study of third-sector journalism in UK and Germany (Daniel Mutibwa)

Interpreted Meaning of the Global Journalist (David Bockino)

YourAnonNews and Hashtag Leverage (Jonathan Albright and Amelia Acker)

Local media in a post-democratization context: the case study of local commercial radio in Serbia (Ana Milojevic and Aleksandra Ugrinic)

Role of social networking sites in Australian journalism production (Saba Bebawi and Diana Bossio)

End of the 2013 media year, beginning of 2014…

I’ve been asked to participate in a couple of “what happened in the media world in 2013″ and “what will happen in the media world in 2014″-type exercises in recent weeks.

Here is the piece I wrote for the Nieman Lab at Harvard. As always, Josh Benton and the rest of the crew have done a terrific job and gotten tons of smart people to offer their thoughts. Great stuff, much to read and ponder in the whole series of 2014 predictions.

My own piece focus on three things to watch for 2014, all under the motto “follow the money”. The three things are (1) the coming disruption of television news, (2) the changing interactions between social media and content producers, and (3) the ongoing evolution of pay models for digital news.

Before writing my 2014 piece, I re-read my 2013 predictions, also written for  the Nieman Labs. I mischievously called that piece “a year of more of the same” and argued the underlying trends throughout 2013 would be a continuation of what we have seen for years now, a structural transformation that is eroding legacy business models for news production at a much faster pace than new business models are being developed. (I was tempted to essentially submit the same piece again with the title “It’s the economy, stupid”, but that would be too cheeky.)

I also said we were likely to see at least one major surprise–the Edward Snowden revelations and everything they led to would be my retrospective candidate for that “one major surprise”-award.

I highlight the Snowden revelations in my contribution to Nic Newman‘s annual trends report (here is the 2103 one–hold up well in retrospect, I think, especially on mobile traffic, Twitter, and new social media) where he surveys a range of people to supplement his own many insights into developments in media and journalism.

Nic asked me three questions for his forthcoming 2014 report–

1.     What surprised you most in 2013?
2.     What will surprise people in 2014?
3.     Companies, start ups or technologies to watch

Below is my reply–

What surprised me most in 2013? The extent of NSA surveillance revealed by Snowden and the various media organizations he worked with and who followed up on it. Like everyone else I thought of assumed some of this stuff was going on but frankly I find the extent of it both shocking and somewhat surprising.

What will surprise people in 2014? It will surprise some that there are some people out there who will pay for (digital) news content provided it is (a) relevant, (b) distinct, (c) timely, and (d) convenient. It will surprise some companies trying to charge for news content that their offerings do not qualify under those considerations. It will surprise some journalists that their work does not qualify under those considerations.

Companies to watch? I’m going to be old-school and say Axel Springer. Their pay experiments seem to have gotten off to a good start, they have a strong basis with their legacy operations, they have focused the news and media content parts of the company more clearly through their sales to Funken media group, and the acquisition (provided it is green-lighted by competition authorities) of the TV news channel N24 is really interesting and has the potential to strengthen Welt specifically but also other parts of the company by increasing their video capabilities (for digital as well as for traditional scheduled TV, obviously).

(All of the above is very Western-centric, and very business-oriented. I should hasten to add I continue to try to follow developments in the industry in Brazil and India, and that I, on the content side, look forward (if that is the right word) to following the journalistic coverage of the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, the 2014 U.S. Congressional mid-term elections, and the Indian 2014 general election.)

Future of Journalism, Cardiff Conference round-up

I spent the last two days in Cardiff for Bob Franklin’s biannual journalism studies conference hosted by the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC). Lots of good stuff and great to see folks and catch up on interesting work being done around the world. (Full program here, abstracts of all papers here.)

Three take-aways from panels and discussions I attended (more at #FoJ2013 on Twitter for those interested)—

First, local and regional journalism and news information environments–

It was very refreshing to see several very good pieces of empirical research on the particular questions concerning local and regional journalism and news information environments in different contexts. I was particularly impressed with the work being done by Andy Williams and colleagues on local and hyperlocal journalism in the UK, Julie Firmstone and Stephen Coleman’s work-in-progress on the local information environment in Leeds (including studies of the city council, legacy news, and new digital sites), as well as research by Piet Bakker and colleagues from the Netherlands on developments there. Very good stuff. It would be great to see more studies from other countries so we can develop a more comparative understanding of what is going on with local news and information environments in different contexts. (Some work has been done in the US too.)

Second,the ubiquity of the New York Times–

It is clear that the New York Times continues to hold enormous sway over the imagination of both journalists and journalism studies scholars thinking about digital and digital strategy. As Piet Bakker rightly remarked after Robert Picard’s keynote lecture, “everyone talks about the same three examples: the New York Times, financial newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, and the Guardian.” Of course, all of these are highly unusual cases, from which we can probably learn relatively little about how digital is developing and working out for other news organizations, including top titles in small national markets (that is, much of Western Europe), but also, apropos my point above, local and regional newspapers like the Western Mail in Wales (studied by Williams et al), the Yorkshire Post (studied by Firmstone and Coleman), and their equivalents in other countries. As I’ve argued before—as many others have—even if we have to recognize the empirical fact that the New York Times figures prominently in how lots of people talk and think about digital strategy, the actual news organization and company itself probably can’t even tell us much about how other US newspapers are faring, let alone how newspapers elsewhere are faring. There’s an analogy here to the role for example the Barack Obama campaign plays in discussions of digital politics. (As Oscar Westlund pointed out in one discussion, it’s well known from studies of organizational learning that you often make your biggest mistakes when you learn from the wrong examples.)

Third,lots of good, theoretically and methodologically diverse, work on digital–

Journalism studies continues to catch up on digital, lots of good work on innovation, the integration of new technologies in newsrooms and work practices, how ordinary people engage with news etc through digital, and also some work across platforms that takes digital seriously without giving up on legacy or ignoring legacy media’s enduring importance. The field of journalism studies, from my impression, has done a better job of overcoming sharp analogue/digital distinctions and “old media”/”new media” binaries than many other areas of media and communication studies including, I hate to admit as someone who also has an intellectual home there, parts of political communication research. In part, it is good to see how a conference like this draws not only people who consider themselves journalism studies scholars, but also a sizable contingent of audience researchers (very interesting papers by Regina Marchi from the US and by Tim Groot Kormelink and Irene Costera Meier from the Netherlands on tailor-made news), a few media economists, people studying management, etc. This kind of diversity is surely a necessary part of understanding journalism today.

Prospects for global and national news, what about local?

Developments at leading national newspapers building their (paying) digital audience both in-country and internationally give reason for some cautious optimism concerning the future of global and national news, but it is not clear that we can learn much from the models rolled out at these papers when it comes to the important question of the future of local and regional news.

That’s one of my takeaways from a fabulous 30th Anniversary Weekend celebrating the Reuters Institute’s fellowship program for journalists from around the world. (The program’s 30th anniversary, not mine…)

In addition to a great chance to catch up with fellows and friends from around the world, the weekend provided for several interesting discussions of developments in the business of journalism around the world, with presentations by the new New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson, Natalie Nougayrede, the editor-in-chief of the French daily newspaper Le Monde, and John Stackhouse, editor-in-chief of the Canadian Globe and Mail.

A few highlights from their presentations—

  • All of them recognized the challenges their organizations have faced and still face in a changing media environment, but all also spoke with confidence and vision about a future in which an expanded range of editorial content across more platform and a greater reliance on reader (viewer/listener/user) payment will continue to provide us with great journalism.
  • All stress their ambition to stand out from the empty calories of breaking news “churnalism” to create value for their users (in Nougayrede’s words: we need to get it first, but also get it right and get it rich). Especially Mark Thompson spoke out very strongly against the idea of “paid advertorials” or “native advertising” blurring the line between editorial and advertising.
  • All predict hybrid print-digital models for the foreseeable future—Mark Thompson said that internal modeling at the NYT suggest that print will be a key part of the company and news organization “for much longer than many people imagine”.
  • All present business models based on print sales and advertising revenues combined with digital advertising plus an increased emphasis on digital sales and an expanding range of ancillary products based on each news organization’s brand and reputation (conferences, seminars, etc).
  • All of them are heading news organizations with lower revenues today than in the 1990s, but all are also painting a picture where the coming years may look better than the dramatic declines of 2007-2012.

It was all very interesting, and many of the journalists in the audience remarked that it was refreshing to hear such confident and relatively upbeat presentations after years of doom and gloom, at least in North America and much of Europe.

Of course, all three speakers are keen to promote their vision for their respective title, and to boost their future prospects, but I thought every one of them remained mostly reality-based on their presentations and I agree that there are reasons for cautious optimism when it comes to the future of titles like especially the New York Times, but also nationally-dominant quality brands with some potential for global reach like the Le Monde (Nougayrede spoke of plans to expand the title’s presence in Francophone Africa, where some countries have a sizable and growing professional class).

But, just sticking to the case of the New York Times and Le Monde, I continue to wonder how much we can really learn from their experience when it comes to the future of other newspapers, especially local and regional newspapers and newspapers in smaller countries.

Mark Thompson quoted Chris Anderson, Emily Bell, and Clay Shirky’s important caveat in their report on “Post-Industrial Journalism” from last year to the effect that every statement in discussions of the future of journalism that begins with the sentence “let’s take the New York Times as an example” ought to be discounted because the NYT’s experience really isn’t representative of anything else. It is in a set of one, and only few other titles, perhaps the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, can be compared with it in any meaningful way.

Even the step from being a leading national title (with considerable global potential) in a market of 315 million to being amongst the top titles in markets of 60 million (like France) with less global potential is huge in terms of getting to critical mass both in terms of digital advertising and digital sales. The situation in a country like my native Denmark, with a population of 5.5 million (less than New York City or Paris alone) is of course very different.

For both national papers in smaller countries and regional and local papers in bigger ones, the problem of critical mass—which is central both when it comes to digital advertising revenues and digital sales, where people often speak of aiming for a “conversation rate” of maybe 1 per cent of monthly unique visitors signing up as paying readers—is even more pressing than at titles with potential for global reach. Mark Thompson called the New York Times a relative minnow when it comes to digital advertising (volume is required both to generate revenue and to enable good behavioral targeting of advertising). He is right, of course, when comparing the Times to Google, Facebook, etc, but if the NYT is a minnow, I don’t know what the word would then be for other newspapers.

We can see the problems of reaching critical mass both in small countries like Denmark, where even the top national newspapers are in a situation quite different from that of the New York Times or even Le Monde. The New York Times can support a newsroom with more than 1,000 journalists in a country of 315 million (with an additional about ten percent of its digital subscribers from the rest of the world). Divide that by 60 to get to Danish size, and you would have a newsroom of less than 20. Even after several years of cost-cutting, the newsroom at a title like Berlingske (currently being shopped around by its debt-burdened British owners Mecom) is much, much larger than that, but it remains an open question for how long it can sustain such an investment in quality journalism.

We can also see the problem of critical mass at the hundreds of local and regional daily papers that make up the majority of the US newspaper industry, employ the majority of US journalists, and produce much of the independent coverage of public affairs. The Newark-based Star-Ledger, for example, is critical in terms of covering New Jersey’s notoriously corrupt and incestuous politics (what other Western newspaper has a section simply called “corruption”?). Based across the Hudson River from the New York Times, it is losing money even though it has a daily paid circulation larger than Le Monde or several Danish daily papers combined (over 340,000 on weekdays). And though it is growing its digital subscriber base, it is hard for the Star-Ledger to build a digital business, as many of the readers it caters to already get some local news for free via broadcast and web from local television stations etc and many get much of their national and international coverage from national sources or larger neighboring newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer (in South Jersey) and the New York Times (in North Jersey). The recent trouble at AOL’s Patch and Advance Publication’s decision to scrap AnnArbor.com suggest that online-only hyperlocal journalism is even harder to sustain on a commercial basis. The problems of rapidly eroding print revenues and very limited growth in terms of digital revenue also bedevils much of the European local and regional press (though there seems to be some exceptions such as in Finland where the regional press seems to be doing better than the national press).

So, even though the presentations by Mark Thompson and even Natalie Nougayrede from Le Monde provided some reasons for cautious optimism when it comes to the future of global and national news, I’m not sure we can learn all that much from the experience of the New York Times when it comes to newspapers in smaller national markets or when it comes to regional or local newspapers.

This problem—especially the future of local and regional news—is thus intellectually distinct from the problem of the future of national and global news, and of separate importance not only for the business of journalism, but also very much for democracy. Though news tend to focus on national politics and national issues, most of our lives are lived locally, and much of our politics and government play out locally, watched by and reported on by ever fewer journalists. That, I think, is a problem in terms of accountability and in terms of the independent sources of information available to citizens about local public affairs.

Genachowski did little to help journalism—will the next FCC chair act differently?

On March 22, the Federal Communication Commission Chairman, Julius Genachowski, confirmed that he is stepping down.

Much of the discussion of Genachowski’s legacy has focused on what the FCC did and didn’t do during his tenure on important core issues like internet access and mobile service, as well as questions concerning the commission’s overall regulatory authority in an increasingly convergent media sector.

What about journalism? This is not a core concern for the FCC, but it is important, and with the publication in 2011 of the “Information Needs of Communities”-report, Genachowski at least raised the possibility that the commission would seek to play some role in addressing the democratic challenges that arise from the wrenching transformation that the news industry—newspapers in particular—is undergoing in the United States.

Especially since 2007, the combination of economic pressures and technological change has severely challenged the business models that used to sustain journalism in the United States. Especially local, metropolitan, and state-level issues are in many places no longer covered in ways that ensure people can keep track of public affairs in their community.

The implications are potentially dire—as Paul Starr has put it, it may well be “goodbye to the age of newspapers, hello to a new era of corruption.”

The “Information Needs of Communities”-report recognized the challenges this transformation in the news industry represent for American democracy, and though it did not present major policy initiatives to address the issue, it did make a number of minor recommendations.

Little has been done, however, to act on these recommendations, and there are no signs that the fundamental challenges—of how to serve, in the future, the democratic information needs of communities—have been met.

Here is how the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism summarizes developments in the news industry since the publication in 2011 of the “Information Needs of Communities”-report—

In 2012, a continued erosion of news reporting resources converged with growing opportunities for those in politics, government agencies, companies and others to take their messages directly to the public.

Signs of the shrinking reporting power are documented throughout this year’s report. Estimates for newspaper newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put the industry down 30% since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 full-time professional employees for the first time since 1978.

[…] This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands. And findings from our new public opinion survey released in this report reveal that the public is taking notice. Nearly one-third of the respondents (31%) have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.

The problems that prompted the “Information Needs of Communities”-report have not gone away. In fact, in many respects, they are only growing worse. Even as digital technologies empower us in many ways as citizens and consumers, the news that help us act as such is rapidly eroding in many parts of the United States. The possibility that the FCC would seek to play some constructive role in addressing this  problem remains, almost two years after the report came out, at best that—a possibility.

Public policy initiatives in general and the FCC in particular cannot make the challenges that news media organizations and journalism face go away. But policy initiatives can help the news industry and the journalistic profession address these challenges and make the most of the new opportunities that present themselves to ensure that communities across American have access to the information that they need to engage in democratic self-governance.

In terms of doing so, Genachowski leaves no real legacy. The “Information Needs of Communities”-report published under his tenure documented many of the problems at hand. Let’s hope the next FCC chair will start looking for ways of addressing them.

The New York Times company leaving the U.S. newspaper industry behind

I’ve written a short blog post on the Huffington Post on the New York Times Company’s decision to (again) try to sell the New England Media Group (including the Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette).

I wrote this Thursday morning European time, between then and the publication on the HuffPo site, several other people have written interesting stuff on the same issue, including Ken Doctor at the Nieman Labs blog and Andrew Beaujon at Poynter.

Also, now the Wall Street Journal reports that the New York Times Company has already received a formal bid valuing the Globe at more than $100 million. It will be interesting to follow what happens.

Post-industrial journalism across the western world plus predictions for 2013

I’ve written a comment on the Columbia Journalism School/Tow Center for Digital Journalism report on “Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present”  for the Nieman Journalism Lab site discussing similarities and differences between the US and Europe, and also contributed a short piece for their series of predictions for what the year 2013 will bring for news/journalism, basically suggesting we’ll see more of the same plus at least one major surprise.

Why Newsweek’s decision to stop printing does not herald the (immediate) end of print

Newsweek just announced it is going all-digital at the end of the year. I’ve been asked by several journalists whether this heralds the end of print. Basically my answer is “no.”

Clearly, the cyclical and structural pressures felt by most of the news industry have played a decisive role in this decision. It is also clear that print is a smaller and smaller (though still significant) part of the overall media environment of affluent democracies, in terms of both audience, sales revenue, and advertising revenue.

But print remains the most important and most profitable part of the news business for most legacy media companies, often accounting for 80%-90% of overall revenues and most of the profit. Digital continues to be at best breaking even or delivering a thin margin, and often continues to make losses even at very prominent news organizations with sizable online/mobile audiences.

Print is shrinking, but it will continue to be a key part of the many, diverse platforms and sources of revenue of many well-run news organizations for years to come. Digital is growing, but still hard to make money off.

Some of the best news magazines around the world, including the Economist operating from the UK, Spiegel in Germany, and to some extent Newsweek’s most direct US competitor, Time Magazine, have managed to build very promising print-digital hybrid models around exactly this basic insight–print and digital typically need to go hand in hand to make things work financially. Born-digital news sites like Politico in the US and The European in Germany and Rue89 in France have all resorted to print products as part of their attempts to build sustainable businesses (and not simply large online audiences drawn by free content). Many of these have so far weathered the ongoing digital transition better than many other legacy media companies. I would be very surprised to see any of the above-mentioned news magazines go digital-only in the near future.

So if Newsweek’s decision to stop printing isn’t the end of print, what is it then?

It is a case to illustrate the point that for legacy print-based media organizations to survive in the vastly more competitive media environment of today, faced with both cyclical and structural challenges, they need—

1)      Operational excellence in terms of running eroding legacy businesses to ensure that they continue to contribute to the bottom line and enable investment in innovation and quality content. It is bad enough to lose money on digital offerings. Many companies do. If you lose money on your legacy offerings too, you are in deep trouble. Newsweek has been losing money for years and its print circulation has declined much faster than for example Time’s.

2)      A reality-based digital strategy that includes a way of generating revenue of expensively produced content. Free as a money-making proposition works only for a very few, very big sites—the volume game has few winners, and most of them are not content-producers but services. (Last year, Zenith Optimedia estimated that Google gobbled up almost 45% of global online advertising spending in 2010. The top five companies together accounted for more than 60%. None of them are content producers.)

3)      A clear value-proposition to one or more clearly defined target audiences and a convincing differentiation between you and your nearest competitors to ensure you can (a) earn people’s attention (and perhaps persuade some to embrace a pay model) and (b) at least ensure you get premium CPM rates for your web traffic.

Newsweek has been a great news magazine and has produced some great journalism. But it had none of the above. In today’s media environment it is increasingly marginalized, an also-ran compared to its main competitors. Second best would have been easily good enough in the most hospitable environment of pre-digital, pre-crisis media. It no longer is.