Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How Newspapers Can Make Money Again

People are running. Papers are flying. Phones are ringing off the hook. I try to make sense of the chaotic environment in the newsroom.

“What’s going on?” I ask Randy, a veteran reporter.

“Oh, the ad people are having a big marketing blitz,” he said. “They are calling companies to try to convince them to buy ads in our paper. We’re really hurting financially, you know.”

While I admit newspapers receive most of their money from advertising, there is no possible reason why they should be engaged in a marketing campaign. If such an action has to occur, then the journalists are not doing their job. Good journalism should be the first priority of any news organization, not advertising.

Good journalism has been defined in the last blog as journalism that does not merely present the news, but interpret the news so citizens would know how it impacts their lives. If a newspaper vows to make citizens its “first loyalty,” as Kovach and Rosenstiel explain, then that mindset will leak into the newspaper’s stories; citizens will realize this and circulation would likely increase.

But many news organizations are reluctant to enact this kind of journalism. But why? Because they believe that being positive toward businesses would make businesses more willing to place ads in the newspaper. This has lead to these “pseudo-events” we have been talking about in class. These pre-planned events really have no news value and are usually set up to promote a certain business or organization. The problem with covering these events is that it is counter productive. A news organization wants to make money, but by offering to promote certain businesses over others, it is compromising the organization’s journalistic integrity. The citizens will realize this and circulation will fall, along with the amount of advertisers.

Another misconception news organizations have regarding increasing profits is this notion that if you cut jobs, you will increase revenue. Schudson and Tifft state that “because cost-cutting was an easy way to boost profits, some newsrooms lacked adequate resources to pursue complex stories.” I have seen this first hand when I wrote stories from the State Capitol. The Tulsa World and Daily Oklahoman used to have a total of eight reporters working at the Capitol. Now, they only have three. They do not just work separately either. Because they have lost resources, they work together on stories. So it is like they are one newspaper instead of two. This leads to less compelling stories that affect people, and more stories that simply implement quick quotes and barely scratch the surface. Sure, the organization will get some upfront money from cutting jobs, but it will hurt them financially in the long-term. If an organization can have more employees providing good journalism, then their profits will flourish in the long-term because they will have more readers.

Schudson and Tifft will both agree that the Internet had a huge impact on the journalism industry. "Traditional news organizations launched Web editions that allowed news not only to be interactive, but updated continuously throughout the day." This is great for journalism, but news organizations have not combined good journalism with a good business model. This has led to less circulation and more online readers. Why pay to read something you can read online for free? Ideally, the solution would be to charge for online content, but this is impossible without collaberation between all media organizations. In other words, this will never happen. Media organizations should strip their online stories and allocate only multimedia for the Internet, like videos or slideshows. If viewers want a more in-depth look at a story, tell them to refer to the newspaper. If citizens are interested, they will have to pick up a newspaper because the in-depth content is not available anywhere else.

Lastly, a good-journalism-first business model works not only in the land of theory, but in the real world. A great example of this is the McClatchy Papers. This newspaper company avoided layoffs in 2005. President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a speech to shareholders that good journalism was the backbone to all of the company’s success.

“Our focus on journalistic quality and continuous improvement certainly supports our strong performance in circulation,” Pruitt said.

And strong circulation means no more marketing campaigns for newspapers. If good journalism equals more readers, then companies would realize this and would come to you instead of you marketing to them. And more advertisers mean when an editor is asked what is black, white and red all over, he or she could confidently answer “our newspaper” instead of “our balance sheets.”

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
End Times

Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests


  1. I am not sure I agree with you on your idea that online content should consist of purely multimedia for free and no print.

    What then happens to TV News? If people can watch the videos online, on their time then why tune in to watch an actual newscast?

    It seems the argument of what to do online still stands unresolved.

  2. Your argument stands on these legs (as I understood it from first glance):

    Good journalism increases readership, thus increasing potential advertisers' interest in advertising with the given publication (more eyes on their spots). If publications are having to do a marketing blitz to gain advertising, the organization has already failed on the front end by letting the quality of their product slip. They need to divert their marketing efforts towards a "quality push", and the problem of advertising dollars will return ostensibly from the increased grade of reporting.

    I would be interested to hear how many publications and stations feel about this, as I am sure they feel their work has not diminished in any capacity as the advertising dollars have sowly disappeared.

    What other factors could be attributed to this conundrum?