State of the news media address
According to Captain Obvious, the news media landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade. It seems like every few days a media outlet is announcing cuts, putting up a pay wall, declaring bankruptcy, or taking other drastic measures to stay in the black. As media “geeks,” we at Goff Public work hard to analyze the media and communications industries and try to predict what will happen next in a virtually unpredictable market.
We all count on reporters, editors, and media outlets to let us know what is happening in the world. But the primary vehicle that is responsible for bringing us that information is running out of gas. I personally know more than 15 former media members who, in the last five years, have either lost their jobs, been bought out, or left the industry due to uncertainty or decreasing pay. It is sad to see talent and energy leave an industry that plays a vital role in a society that craves information.
As we mentioned in a prior blog, the era of web 2.0 is over, and we are now living in the age of mobile. More than four in ten American adults own a smartphone. One in five has a tablet. With so many people receiving information as it happens, it decreases the need for us to watch the 10 p.m. news or subscribe to a printed morning newspaper.
Sites like CarSoup, Monster.com and Realtor.com have taken millions of advertising dollars away from newspapers and television newscasts, devastating the profitability of a once viable business model. So many news media organizations continue to struggle because no one has introduced a profitable enough news model in the digital world that can fill the budget holes.
Commercial broadcast stations and daily papers will likely continue to struggle the most because they are competing against new competitors, new technology, and each other for a piece of the shrinking traditional ad revenue pie. Additionally, readership, listenership and viewership are decreasing because people have more ways to get information and in many cases are able to do it for free.
With so many options for media consumption, the most valuable commodity for any media company is audience loyalty. Are the readers, viewers and listeners compelled enough by the quality of the product to continually connect with it? Do people running newsrooms today understand what the public wants and are they able to find cost-effective ways to produce it?
If there is one local media company that may have the most viable business model for this new era, it is Minnesota Public Radio. At its core, it is a nonprofit organization that, instead of relying on traditional advertising, receives a large chunk of its funding from listener donations. While other media outlets in the past may have taken customer loyalty for granted, MPR would not exist without it. Today more than 100,000 people see enough value in what MPR provides that they voluntarily pay for something they can get for free. Having a different relationship with its audience has helped MPR continue to refine its product to fit the audience’s needs.
The concept of understanding your audience and building a connection and loyalty is not limited to radio broadcasts. The same concept works for small newspapers like the Villager, which serves Saint Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood. The bi-monthly publication has no online presence and offers free doorstop delivery to 50,000 homes. For nearly 60 years, the Villager has been the voice for the Highland Park community, covering district council meetings, city committees, school activities, and much more. Readers trust it, and advertisers value it. Reporter Jane McClure tells The GP Spin she thinks the paper has remained successful because it publishes original content that is unique to the Highland Park audience. We’ll have more on our interview with Jane in an upcoming blog.
Throughout this transformative time, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for good storytelling. It is one thing to consume headlines in 140 characters or less, but our society still demands skilled writers who can gather facts, research all sides of an issue, provide context, and present information in compelling ways. While the need for news will never go away, the future of how news is delivered to us – and how news organizations remain profitable – is uncertain.
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