New Study Suggests Lessons for Online Journalism

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According to a new study cited in today’s NY Times, journalists need to rethink their online models.

Perhaps the most significant recommendation from the 139-page report, published by Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism is to change journalists’, and their audiences’, relationships with advertisers.

Times reporter Brian Stelter quotes Bill Grueskin, the academic dean for the journalism school and a co-author of the report as saying: “We’re not suggesting that journalists get marching orders from advertisers. We are suggesting that journalists get a much better understanding of why so many advertising dollars have left the traditional news media business.” 

Other recommendations include:

  • Journalists must understand their businesses. The report makes the point that journalists “gain a fuller appreciation for how advertisers now reach their customers via social media, new-media ads and search engine optimization,” and that larger news organizations should consider creating or re-creating separate digital staffs, “particularly on the business side.” 
  • Journalists need to have a “faster and more consistent pace of innovation and investment” in digital technology. (As a counterpoint, please note that the report itself was printed on 139 pages. Perhaps the authors should follow their own advice.)
  • “Advertising on the Web tends to have less value for the consumer than advertising in other formats.” 
  • Newspapers need to look past the traditional cost-per-thousands advertising model to offer creative ways to package ways to reach audiences. The study cites the Web site of The Dallas Morning News, which has a section for high school sports. A package deal for advertising on the section during a recent football season included print ads, a player-of-the-week contest and a banquet for players at the end of the season.”

For corporate communications functions, this study — The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism, published in the Columbia Journalism Review — is useful in terms of helping guide clients to embracing a new way to look at media.  It’s also interesting in that the reporting about the study shows limitations in the current model. For example, I’m a big fan of the Times’ reporter, Stelter, but his article did not mention Columbia Journalism Review nor provide a link to the study itself. It just goes to show that we all need to think through how we make content available across multiple channels.

Meanwhile, here are the chapter titles for the extensive report. I plan to read through the report for future blog posts.

Chapter One News From Everywhere: The Economics of Digital Journalism
Chapter Two Traffic Patterns: Why Big Audiences Aren’t Always Profitable
Chapter Three Local and Niche Sites: The Advantages of Being Small
Chapter Four The New New Media: Mobile, Video, and Other Emerging Platforms
Chapter Five Paywalls: The Price Tag for Information
Chapter Six Aggregation: ‘Shameless’—and Essential
Chapter Seven Dollars and Dimes: The New Costs of Doing Business
Chapter Eight New Users, New Revenue: Alternative Ways to Make Money
Chapter Nine Managing Digital: Audience, Data, and Dollars

One question: in an age of 140 characters posts on Twitter, was 139 pages a bit overkill?

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