Turning inner space into outer space

July 8, 2014

Today's journalists can no longer ignore the business side of their industry

The hard thing about the news business is that it is indeed a business. So when we talk about the future of journalism, an important part of the conversation has to be about how to pay for it.

I’m convinced that journalism itself it doing great. I read lots of good journalism every day. A lot of it involves good old fashioned research and writing. Much of it involves technological innovation. Either way, many journalists have adapted well to changing times and have proven their worth.

Where we’re floundering is with business models. We used to know how to pay reporters and editors with ad revenue. But that revenue has been plunging lately, especially at newspapers. Radio and TV are also suffering.


We see advertisers flocking to the Internet, but it’s tough to get enough advertising on a news site to support journalism to the same extent as in the past.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no single business model that will work on the Internet in the same straight-forward way it did with old media. So how will journalists earn a living in the digital age? In the short term, at least, they will have to learn more about the business side of things. And for some, it will be painful.

Kathleen Bartzen Culver, an assistant professor in the school of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, notes in a column at MediaShift that journalists have long referred to marketing and sales as the dark side.

This is their way of distancing themselves from the down-and-dirty business side of things and maintaining a sort of purity for their profession.

It was easy to be holier than thy marketer when some news organizations were turning year-over-year profits that would send drool down the chin of an oil and gas executive. Not today.

She argues that journalists and marketers can learn a lot from each other, especially when it comes to reaching audiences.

At a recent journalism conference in England that focused on the topic of making digital journalism pay, several good ideas were bandied about. The consensus was that it is indeed possible to make money but it’s a struggle to make a decent living.

Journalists told stories of how that found several ways of bringing in money, but in the end what they demonstrated was a spirit of entrepreneurialism that reporters and editors of the past might have considered beneath their dignity.

The downside to all this, of course, is that you’re bound to get better journalism when the people who produce content can focus all their efforts on it. The business side of things, while important, is a distraction that it would be nice to do without.

My hope is that one day the digital dimes will turn into digital dollars. Maybe it will be a journalist with business savvy who figures out how to do this.

Image Credit: Popular Mechanics