There's a lot of uncertainty in media these days. There's a lot of speculation and a lot of doomsday predictions. Much of the concern stems from the declining readership of the once ubiquitous morning newspaper and its failing ad-based revenue model. It seems whenever I meet with someone from the PR industry they share similar concerns. They wonder if today's kids care about news. Will they discriminate between a Tweet and a New York Times byline?
Layoffs and other cutbacks across media, folded magazines, and continued closures at local papers exacerbate the hand-wringing. As someone who has worked in media for my entire career, I've seen my share of the negative side of this debate; case in point, the magazine I interned with my senior year in college closed up its print edition, reduced staff, moved online, and I notice they now employ three interns (as opposed to the one while I was there), a number equal to its editorial staff. Yet, I find that I remain optimistic for the profession.
In June I attended the New York Financial Writers Association dinner, and one of the speakers said something that struck me. Allan Sloan, senior editor-at-large, at Fortune, and a longtime journalist, said something to the effect of not being worried about the industry, because “News and information, these are viable products.” I've been repeating it ever since. Media has a viable product to sell, which is why it's not going away.
Yes, all the recent polls show that people are moving more and more toward consuming their news online, and for those under 34 this is even more true. But this shouldn't be interpreted to mean an end to solid journalism, or revenue-producing media entities. The industry is no doubt in a transition phase, and until it rights itself, there will be more bloodletting. I believe there will be less journalists on the whole when we emerge, and more of them working from home. Strong brands like The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post will likely survive. Will they one day move completely online? Yes, I believe so, and it is already happening to the local papers.
I continue to be inspired, though, that the media industry will successfully evolve. Projects such as a new nonprofit news collaboration in the Bay Area, and new innovations in pricing models being suggested by everyone from Steven Brill to Google are on the right track to the hybrid news entity of the future; one in which I hope to have an online subscription that allows me to pick from the very best sources and those that interest me – a personalized, relevant news module.
For the interim, though, traditional media sources – TV, radio, and newspapers (in that order) – still account for most popular ways for Americans to consumer news. Those figures shouldn't be ignored when thinking about where to place a story today, while remaining aware of the need to adjust now for the future media landscape.