In Com 315 (Storytelling II), students read “The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. The book is still quite relevant, addressing the massive changes in the news business due to the digital revolution. But the last edition was published in 2007 before several big events hit:
Negative trends since 2007:
- Major recession if not a Great Depression in the news business, leading to big decline in advertising revenue, continued sharp decline in paid subscriptions to print publications, massive layoffs, closings and foreclosures of newspapers, sharp reduction in the number of employees with publishing organizations.
- Additional scandals in journalism such as phone hacking and shutting down of “News of the World” in Britain that reinforce the notion that some journalists are ethically challenged, corrupt or unfeeling.
- Merger of journalism and advertising or “sponsored content,” raising serious ethical questions. For details, click.
But there are signs the news business is “bottoming out” from its economic crisis:
- Deep-pocket investors have purchased newspapers, thought to be of declining if not descending value, with the idea of sustaining and reinventing them. Warren Buffet has invested in Media General newspapers. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com has purchased The Washington Post. Boston Red Sox owner John Henry purchased The Boston Globe.
- Growing numbers of readers — well over 760,000 — pay $20 a month or more than $200 a year for the digital edition of The New York Times.
- Other online newspapers are starting to charge for content, with mixed success. 2013 was “the Year of the Paywall,” according to BusinessWeek.com. About 40% of US dailies have adopted paywalls or will adopt them in 2014, according to newsonomics.com.
- The emergence of “personal franchise” journalism. Jay Rosen on his “Pressthink” blog offers 11 successful examples. Among them is AndrewSullivan.com, which is in its second year of developing a potentially sustainable business model, with more than 30,000 subscribers paying $20 a year to support an independent blog with no advertising.
- The growth of watchdog journalism such as Propublica.org, with its investigations of issues like Surveillance, and Retroreport.org, which examines issues with an eye toward learning from the mistaken impressions given by the media in the past.
- I note that posts on such sites as www.newspaperdeathwatch.com, by Paul Gillen, are decidedly more positive than they used to be, chronicling more of the rebirth of journalism than the decline of newspapers.
- Emergence of new incentives for paid subscriptions to newspapers, such as digital coupons on smart phones and downloadable ebooks of expanded newspaper content.