Journalism and the (Inexistent) Magic Bullet Business Model

Alberto Puliafito
6 min readJul 4, 2019
June 30, 2019. New York, several minutes before the Pride March.

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
  • subscriptions
  • advertising
  • 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?

Alberto Puliafito

Slow News Editor-in-Chief. My nickname is Malaparte. I resist against state of emergency. Formerly Blogo. Director, SEO, communication strategist.