International Hartford Group: The Rise Of Novel Business Models For Digital News Media

Traditional media giants such as the New York Times and the Washington Post have been fighting for a slice of the future of news readership.  The New York Times, hemorrhaging losses through its subsidiary the Boston Globe in 2009 finally sold off the Beantown paper in 2013 to the owner of the Red Sox.  The Times unraveled a new subscription plan The Washington Post, itself facing tremendous difficulties with having to find a new business model to halt declining revenue from a 44% drop in  subscribers over a six year period decided that its future lay with Jeff Bezos, internet retail mogul and CEO of Amazon.com.

The great question facing media is whether news reporting is doomed.  The answer it seems, judging from the results of Pew study, is a resounding no.  The Pew Research Center found in its survey that journalism jobs have increased in new areas to replace, albeit incompletely, those that were lost at the traditional outlets.  Quantitatively this is measured by a gain of 5000 jobs spread over 468 new, digital-news start-ups.  Venture capitalists have also poured money into these firms.  The Vox Media group itself received $80 million in funding over several campaigns.  It seems that news is hot again.

Some of the start-ups are not content to report from the desk, but have instead bravely erected stations globally.  These firms also have novel business models, from click-bait machine BuzzFeed, to news aggregators HuffingtonPost and DrudgeReport, and to mixed-strategy Business Insider.  Thousands of niche sites, such as tech-oriented blogs TechCrunch, Mashable, Engadget, are filling in gaps left behind by general sites.  Globally minded journalism with hard-hitting, cross-disciplinary commentary is made possible by lowered barriers of communication at champions such as the International Hartford Group.

These watershed changes are driven by a combination of factors.  Facebook, LinkedIn, giants in the social media world, have constructed massive platforms that enable “sharing” of news in a “viral” way (although the mechanics of sharing are being altered by these firms in an effort to shift profits).  Moreover, improvements in open-source content management software such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and proprietary systems such as those found at Vox Media, dramatically lower costs, increase collaboration, and overall aid the bottom line.  News traffic comes also from the search engines, and less so now via direct visits.

The silver lining is marred though, by the observation that journalism jobs have diminished overall from about 55 million in the U.S. in the period of 1990 to 2005, down to about 39 million in 2013.  Therefore many of the lost jobs never come back.  And the fact that globally stationed reporters have decreased in number is a reflection of scale-up in ambition of news projects which will never be replaced, notwithstanding the gradual rise of long-form stories that have recently become popular.

Social sharing of news is encouraging but the news tends to be bite-sized especially on Facebook.  The amount of time a reader spends going to news site is down to less than 2 minutes per month.  Revenues continue to be eroded as online advertising is only a fraction of print, not surprising given that readers have an infinitude of reading choices.  Only the creation of diverse, robust business models can combat these changes.

Many TV viewers have noticed that big television channels like CNN have added tactics that were conceived at their smaller, online brethren, focusing on driving page views and unique visitors through more sensationalist titles, outrageous opinions, and commentary based on raw sources of information such as Twitter and Facebook feeds.  Will journalism gravitate toward the middle as a whole?  Will more jobs be lost or outsourced to freelancers and amateurs?  Sites such as International Hartford Group fight these trends by combining real reporting with insightful analysis.  Only time will tell the evolution of news journalism.

(Photo Credit: H2vPK  / Creative Commons)

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