Modern media is a funny thing. In the same month that Buzzfeed, Verizon Media, and vice media saw massive layoffs, the Washington Post splurged $10m on a Super Bowl ad. So what is the future of journalism?
The Digital Model
A big reason digital-first companies like Buzzfeed and Vice saw huge success early on was the business model. It was dynamic, adaptable and scalable for the modern web. However, as recent trends show, the model is flawed. Today, it is common knowledge that advertising revenue lives and dies on platforms such as Google and Facebook; there is just not enough competition for everyone to have a slice of the pie.
— OpinionPanel (@OpinionPanelC) March 29, 2019
The notion that journalists are losing their jobs because of the apparent ‘decaying quality’ of journalism could not be further from the truth. As we have seen with Trump, the sharp rise in right-wing rhetoric today is calling for a kind of censorship that is not overt, but covert. The press is muzzled, facts are hidden, and it is becoming harder and harder to determine the truth. The rush to be the first to report is causing a decay in the need to fact-check. Most stories will have some semblance of the truth, just not the whole picture.
Attacking the press for this is not a fair solution; it is worth remembering that there is no supply without demand. Our need for instant gratification is forcing organisations to take the fast lane, and the high competition has created a situation where if you are not first, you lose.
Bring on the Paywall
News outlets are facing a cash crisis and there appear to be 2 main solutions. The first is to set up a paywall. Short term, it will surely have consumers reeling, but it is a necessary step. A guaranteed source of income creates greater stability, a greater sense of purpose and encourages loyalty. Secondly, smaller companies need to come together to create their own platform, offering access to all articles and content at a single price. Think of the streaming service industry (Netflix, Prime, Hulu). They’re not only able to hold their own but are enabling other platforms to pop up and keep the industry competitive.
Yes, I am sure even this is riddled with issues, but this business model seems to be a good step to counter the likes of Facebook and Google, who simply cannot compete because they do not produce their own content. If Vice, Vox, Buzzfeed and HuffPost got together to create their own paid platform, one way or another, users would pay and there would be a guaranteed income. Taking content off YouTube and Facebook may seem counter-productive, but it will only push their own platforms. It is critical here that multiple platforms exist, each offering its own niche services to keep the playing field open.
Managing the Monopolies
Another critical step is action by lawmakers, it is imperative that all over the world, governments step in and regulate how much a company can control the internet. With data clearly the new gold rush, it is critical that Google, Facebook, and Amazon have their wings clipped. They own too much of the internet and are clearly operating a monopoly. Laws have to be enacted to protect the smaller players, or else it will be game over.
Even after so many years, papers like The Guardian and Washington Post exist despite declining sales simply because of loyalty and their ability to navigate the ever-changing media landscape. Buzzfeed and Vox can do the same if they go out on a limb and dare to be different. It’s not about ad dollars anymore, but about trust and faith.
That is the true value of journalism.