The media industry has been hit hard for a decade or more in part because the business model has been forever changed by access to free news sites on the internet and social media.
Digital media outlets were supposed to be smarter about costs and clicks and everything you needed to launch, run and grow a 21st century media operation.
But that, unfortunately, is not the case.
In 2023, we’ve seen digital sites like BuzzFeed layoff reporters and other sites get sold or shut down.
Axios notes that number is higher than during the pandemic.
This is terrible news for journalists because there may not be any place for them to go. Take, for example, travel reporters at newspapers. Years ago, every major newspaper seemed to have a weekly travel section. But these days, if they exist, travel sections are smaller and may use syndicated content rather than reporters who write for a specific market. Laid-off travel reporters can’t easily get a full-time travel job with another paper so they now have to reinvent themselves or find new markets, which are less likely to pay at the same levels as their former jobs.
We’ve seen some local reporters, laid off by Gannett from formerly hyperlocal newspapers, launch new hyperlocal newspapers. That’s happening in towns around Massachusetts including Marblehead (where our HQ is located), Newton, Needham, and a few other towns that were no longer being served by Gannett weeklies. (The Gannett weeklies became regional papers that provide little content about their home communities, sometimes featuring as many as five press-releases-as-articles in a 20-page issue — meaning most of each issue had articles like one we saw that featured best pizza places, the nearest one about an hour’s drive from Marblehead.) We wish these new outlets success but some are being produced by people who don’t have journalism experience — and we feel that journalistic experience is important when publishing a newspaper.
Meanwhile, the loss of 17,436 journalists and media professionals is also a problem for marketing and PR functions. As online and print staff have shrunk substantially — the Boston Globe’s newsroom has shrunk to 40% from its height — the issues have less room for news, competition to get the attention of reporters increases, and media organizations look to charge or raise fees for marketing programs.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a solution. And we don’t think AI will provide a solution to the media’s business model problem.
But we think it is important to pay attention to how the media sector is changing and to ask questions. After all, marketing and PR functions must communicate with key audiences. And if the media world continues to shrink, we must find new ways to serve and reach those audiences.