Journalism and the (Inexistent) Magic Bullet Business Model
Follow the money.
Sometimes it’s the best way to understand what’s happening since the money has a so huge role and importance in our society.
Follow the money is, of course, a good prescription for journalists.
It’s also a famous line spoken by Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) in the film All the President’s Men. The actual Deep Throat — the film is based on the true story of about the Watergate scandal — apparently never said exactly that sentence. But it’s perfect for a movie.
Follow the money is a prescription I wrote in one of Slow Journalism’s chapter I personally wrote. I used it to understand what happened in journalism landscape from the beginning of the so-called digital revolution in the last 20 years (at least in western countries).
The simpler version of a long story is: newspapers are struggling against a deep crisis. The old business model has gone with the oligopoly of production and distribution of news.
The old business money means:
- selling of hardcopies
- other revenue streams (announcements, obituaries, judicial auction publications)
Advertising, of course, was also in the past the most important source of revenue. According to a report published by Pew Research Center, 69% of revenues for U.S. based newspapers was derived from advertising still in 2014.
So, basically, newspapers had historically sold to companies their readers’ attention. Companies bought advertising on newspapers for a couple of reason: reaching potential customers and having secured a place when there is something to say in the media landscape.
The bad news is that when private companies hold such a share of your revenue, it could be very difficult to report completely free. But this is a historical issue for journalism: are newspapers focused on their readers as their main stakeholders? Or are they focused on advertisers (both political and private) as their main customers?