The Story So Far, What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism from the Columbia Journalism School may be the most insightful social media document of all time.
The essence is the media’s attempt to master internet and social media based strategies “and” turn a profit at the same time. But the lessons apply to all of us engaged in web based efforts.
The decline in newspaper circulation and virtually all form of media engagement is down (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspaper_circulation).
Trust in the media has been declining (see http://www.people-press.org/2011/09/22/press-widely-criticized-but-trusted-more-than-other-institutions/ ) and newsroom staffing for all media has declined; “American daily newspapers shed 5,900 newsroom jobs last year, reducing their employment of journalists by 11.3 percent to the levels of the early 1980s,” (see http://asne.org/).
The focus of the report is on newspapers as they try to monetize the Internet. Newspapers recorded huge numbers of internet users “but” the problem is that they don’t stay very long on the site.
Those of us who grew up with newspaper readership spend at least 15 to 20 minutes per edition thus the ads within were viewed; it’s almost as if you couldn’t avoid them ever if you wanted to. I read two newspapers a day thus my time commitment to the print world is at least a half hour daily.
Now people go to media websites with a hit and run mentality; they spend little time on site and they pay little attention to the ads. They record large numbers of page views but they are there for very brief amounts of time.
Why would a business pay for that level of engagement? Thus the heart and soul of the media business (their ability to create a profit) is challenged significantly (along with declining print circulation and ad revenue).
We like to say that Google isn’t in the search business; they’re in the advertising business. It’s the same with newspapers and all forms of media.
My favorite quote from the report is in the conclusion, “Here’s the problem: Journalists just don’t understand their business.” The fundamental question is just what “is” the business of newspapers and media across the board?
Their problem is our problem:
You may justifiably ask why the above has any connection to websites and social media efforts beyond newspapers and my answer is that their problems and solutions are the same as ours.
Turn the above quote around, “Here’s the problem: Webmasters and social media practitioners just don’t understand their business.” The fundamental question is just what “is” the business of websites and social media? There are lots of successful digital sites but the majority are struggling operations.
You can easily make the case that quality journalism costs money; decreases affect the ability of any media outlet to serve our needs for information and context. That applies to us as well.
In essence, newspapers are trying to reinvent themselves. Their survival depends on it.
The same applies to everyone beyond newspapers; what brings in readers, listeners and viewers? What do we have to do to attract and engage? If we are profit based, how do we earn money?
Are there workable solutions?
Newspapers have tried everything conceivable from charging for access to an emphasis on digital-only local papers to greater coverage of local sports to getting into the website creation and advertising business; a company goes to them and they place ads in multiple places beyond their own paper including the internet. The attempts to attract people and monetize are creative and endless. Many are failures.
But my guess is that even the best among us in the digital world face the same dilemmas as to time spent on site, turning a profit or our ability to offer a quality product.
Most of us fight for every page view and our Google Analytics show short times spent on site (like newspapers) and my guess is that this applies to everyone else on the net.
Thus the newspaper industry’s dilemma is equally ours; what we could do to digitally attract people and hold an audience is the subject of the next article.
Source for The Story So Far: http://cjrarchive.org/img/posts/report/The_Story_So_Far.pdf.
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