CJR study: Traditional news industry can transform

Legacy platforms should not be abandoned or ignored, but newsmedia companies should recognise that audiences and digital platforms are constantly transforming and a demand quicker, more consistent investments and innovation, states a new report by the Columbia Journalism School, out today.

The report, “The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism,” offers nine recommendations for newsmedia publishers, which are abbreviated into two categories below:

Editorial challenges across new platforms: Digital platforms aren’t just another place to dump existing content from tradition platforms. “…publishers can build economic success by creating high-value, less-commoditised content designed for digital media.”

When creating for multiple platforms, integrating digital and legacy departments can be successful, but so can creating digital-only teams. The size of departments will also be continually challenged, as the digital world doesn’t pay for staffers the way traditional media did:

“We are likely to see a world of more, and smaller, news organizations, the most successful of which will leverage their staffs and audience by using aggregation, curation and partnerships with audiences to provide content of genuine value.”

Speaking of aggregation, news organisations must be active in protecting their content, but they must also understand that most aggregators follow copyright law. This means newsmedia publishers must “develop a thoughtful approach to understanding what topics best lend themselves to aggregation and how best to engage their readers in the effort,” according to the report.

An important new platform is mobile, and publishers will ignore it at their peril. However, for every mobile product that works, there will be others that didn’t. Investing small amounts on multiple product developments will likely lead to more success.

Much attention has been given to paywalls over the past couple years, but pay schemes that are created as just a way to slow circulation losses are not going to lead to long-term successes. Pay schemes must be part of larger, more ambitious strategies, the report states. 

The evolution of advertising: Digital advertising cannot be treated as just another revenue stream – it must be fully understood as a way to connect platforms and connect to audiences.

Advertising that is dependent on volume will never win, especially when competing with the likes of Google and Facebook. Smaller publishers have seen successes in selling both by week or month, rather than CPM, and it is important to build on pricing schemes and deciding how to make ads more effective.

Media companies must also better understand the needs of advertisers, and help them explore all the ways of reaching customers, the report points out: “The can act as guides to the digital era, helping companies produce new-media ads, place them online for maximum impact and learn such digital fundamentals as getting better positioning on search engines.”

A free copy of the report is available for download on the Columbia Journalism Review website. It is also available online by chapter.

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