FOR THE WEEK OF DEC. 03, 2018
Survival strategies: Newspapers and other journalism providers explore new ways to stay in business
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The news industry is a vital resource forced to reinvent itself amid financial strains for many media businesses. Nearly half of U.S. newsroom jobs – more than 20,000 of them – have disappeared this decade. Weekday circulation of American newspapers has slipped steadily since 1998, when it was 62.7 million. Today their print and digital circulation combined reaches only about 31 million, according to the Pew Research Center. That means less subscription revenue, though a steep drop in advertising money is what's most painful. Newspapers' ad revenue plummeted from $48 billion in 2000 to $16.5 billion in 2017.
Magazines, papers and news sites continue to close, and layoffs are a regular thing. The New York Daily News laid off 93 people last summer. Its Chicago-based owner cites "the realities of our business." But bright spots emerge from innovative experiments and investments by groups committed to preserving independent journalism. New nonprofit news organizations rely on grants and membership. The nonprofit Connecticut Mirror, a statewide news site, raised $100,000 from foundations. Organizations such as Pro Publica and Report for America help fill gaps at shrunken news organizations. Separately, three groups – the Knight Foundation, Google News Lab and the Online News Association – created a competition for grants that encourage innovative use of virtual reality, video, drones, three-dimensional displays and other technology for "immersive storytelling to advance the field of journalism."At the same time, more newspapers use "paywalls" that nudge frequent readers to cough up money. Others offer paid “memberships” with access to events and extra features, such as archives of past articles and public record databases used by reporters. A different approach involves partnerships that let foundations, civic groups and other donors support journalism, similar to the way National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System rely on gifts from listeners, viewers and larger backers. In North Central Ohio, for example, an eight-reporter news site called Richland Source raised $70,000 from 22 community organizations that gave $1,000 to $10,000 to support two major projects dealing with elder care and small-town revival. The money goes toward expanded staff. In the Northern California community of Half Moon Bay, five residents united to buy a 120-year-old weekly paper put up for sale by its Arizona-based owner.
Publisher says: "Nonprofits have lived this [fund-raising] life forever. I don't think we’ve broken any ground here. I think we've just expanded it in a somewhat different way." – Jay Allred of Richland Source in Richland County, Ohio
Editor says: "Our enterprise is owned by neighbors who are committed to improving this special place." – Clay Lambert of the Half Moon Bay Review, a Northern California weekly saved by five local buyers
Media columnist says: "One problem with losing local coverage is that we never know what we don't know. Corruption can flourish, taxes can rise, public officials can indulge their worst impulses. . . . In our terribly divided nation, we need the local newspaper to give us common information — an agreed-upon set of facts to argue about." – Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post
Front Page Talking Points Archive