Journalism has had a storied history with the internet. Early on, the internet was a niche market, something for traditional publishers to experiment with as another medium for sharing news. As it gained popularity as a news source, newsrooms began to change, as well, adapting their business models to the digital age. Newspapers had historically generated revenue through a mix of subscriptions, advertising and classifieds. But internet platforms Craigslist and Kijiji soon took over classifieds. Google Ads presented advertisers with more refined marketing tools than the newspapers could offer. And Facebook and Twitter made it possible for readers to consume news for free without visiting newspapers’ websites.
In this episode of Big Tech, co-hosts David Skok and Taylor Owen speak to Emily Bell, the director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Newsrooms are left with few options to make money now. Unless you are a large outlet with a sizable online subscriber base like The New York Times, your capacity for local reporting will be hampered by the economic need to focus on stories that have the broadest reach. Many media conglomerates have cut back their local reporting, creating news deserts across large regions. Not having local reporters on the case is having negative impacts on democracy, too. As Bell explains, “Where there is no local press … local officials tend to stay in office for longer. They tend to pay themselves more.” Smaller local news outlets that can build a relationship with their readers can see success if their readers are able to pay the subscription fees. But it is often poorer communities, where people can’t afford local news subscriptions, that most need the services of good local journalism. Bell sees an opportunity to rethink the way news is funded: first, by looking to communities to decide what level of reporting they require, and second, by resourcing it accordingly.