The Decoupling of Advertising From News

Yesterday, I asked you if blogs, news aggregators and sites like were really killing journalism. Today at 11:00 ET, Ian Shapira, the Washington Post reporter who penned the op-ed on Sunday with that conclusion is hosting a live chat to discuss how the Gawkers of the Net are “destroying journalism”. If my work schedule allows, I hope to participate.

Last week I got some answers to these questions at a panel discussion on the future of journalism hosted by the Washington, D.C. office of Ogilvy Public Relations. The panel, featured some really smart people: Adam Kovacevich with Google’s PR team, USA Today’s David Lynch, The Washington, D.C. Examiner’s Julie Mason, Amy Mitchell with Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, The Washington Post’s Ylan Mui, U.S. News & World Report’s Nikki Schwab and Darrell West of the Brookings Institution.

Mason explained that feature stories like Shapira’s on the Reston consultant who advises businesses on how to manage Generation Y employees are showing up more and more in papers today because publishers are holding focus groups of people who don’t read newspapers.

Sadly, I think Mason’s right.

Today’s publishers hawking print editions of newspapers are like the people who run the landline divisions of the nation’s phone companies. They know that every day, people are cutting the cord — the trend is unmistakable. Fully 20 percent of American households are now wireless only. The problem for the landline guys is they can’t stop the trend and they aren’t sure where their future profits are coming from.

Newspaper publishers are in the same boat, and like the AT&T’s of this world (or for that matter, like some of the leftover landline employees at Sprint), they are too invested in the old ways of doing business. They know people are cancelling their newspaper subscriptions and their revenues from advertising are dropping, but they don’t know what to do.

In its annual report on the State of the Media, the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism put it best: “Journalism, deluded by its profitability and fearful of technology, let others outside the industry steal chance after chance online. By 2008, the industry had finally begun to get serious. Now the global recession has made that harder.”

The problems facing newspapers in particular is the loss of advertising revenue. Pew calls it a “decoupling of advertising from news”.

“That makes the situation better than it might have been,” the Pew researchers write. “But audiences now consume news in new ways. They hunt and gather what they want when they want it, use search to comb among destinations and share what they find through a growing network of social media. And the news industry does now know — and has done less than it could to learn — how to convert this more active online audience into revenue.”

Rather than trying to play whack-a-mole with news aggregators like the Associated Press is threatening to do or trying to lobby Congress to amend copyright law, I think a smarter business decision would be for the newspaper publishers like Dow Jones, The Washington Post Co. and the New York Times Co. to acquire the Gawker Medias of the Net. Then you can regain some of the advertising revenue you’ve lost.

At the Ogilvy panel, Ylan Mui of the Post explained the pressure that reporters are under to write a story about yesterday’s news. “We call it the over-reaching lede.” She’s said that the expectation is to write about the facts, but with a twist that makes the story have a shelf life longer than 24 hours on the newstand or a few days on the Website.

Perhaps this, too, is driven by the focus groups of non-newspaper readers. What do you think?


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