In 2014, The New York Times released an internal innovation report (since leaked to the public) on how a shifting— increasingly mobile and social— media ecology is demanding the need for an agile business model to support their already exemplary foundations in journalism.1 The restructuring of their organization prompts a debate on how the typically walled-off newsroom is expected to interact with the commercial side of business— advertising, promotional outreach, R&D, and audience acquisition— all the while maintaining the valued integrity of its writing.
As their report shows, many of their younger competitors are digital-only publications— and the sustained growth of these new companies (HuffPost, BuzzFeed, Vice, Vox Media, etc.) has reinforced the importance of understanding and incorporating modern technology.
Beyond the incredible insight the report has provided in terms of the internal organizational hierarchies— the constant whirring of the Times' many different cogs, it also performs a somber eulogy to print media. But no one at the Times seems to be wasting any time in mourning; as a whole, the tone is optimistic. The call-to-action encourages everyone at the company, from every level, to consciously explore and communicate ways in which their relatively fractured business model— formerly, a "monopoly on attention"— might adapt to the highly-connected, digital information ecosystem brought about by the Internet.2
The Web has destroyed print news. If you want to put up an ad in the classifieds, you're going to open up a browser and go to craigslist.org, or eBay.3 You might sit down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee on a Sunday and read the funnies; but, when was the last time you read the news on a piece of paper? Our appetite for information is insatiable, and mobile devices have catered to that desire by giving us curated, up-to-date news at any second— and at virtually no cost. Without the overhead of physical resources: distribution, paper and ink— digital businesses have naturally taken over, accelerated by social networks online and instant share-ability.
The result is a shattering of the media climate as the few centralized information outlets bleed out their audience and staff (if not dissolving entirely). As ad revenue streamed from papers to Facebook and Google's duopoly, we've been swept into a noisy and partisan maelstrom of information— with little accountability, or even truth.
It's no coincidence that the current crisis of "fake news", or misinformation, has occurred at the peak of active social media use. In 2017, "two-thirds of Americans report that they get at least some of their news on social media" according to a study by Pew Research Center.4 The introduction of user-generated content, artificial users (trolls and bots), algorithmically-curated news, and the overall abundance of information hasn't, however, been met with a broader sensibility of shrewd readership. Instead, quality journalism— awash in the continuous outpouring of disparate information— is struggling to command much attention at all.
Traditional news outlets like the Times have indeed struggled to find creative ways of meeting user-demand— attempting to survive as a viable business while their work is passed around Facebook feeds like a viral meme. Recently, the introduction of a metered paywall has provided a means of retaining the value which their journalists provide. However, it's reinforced the idea that access to quality news is not free— while Facebook has washed its hands to the influx of links and copycats. Undoubtedly, it will take incredible innovation— perhaps aided by regulatory policy as the recent lashback against Facebook continues— to compete with the powerful networks established by social media.
An intriguing business model that rejects outside publisher advertising in favor of in-house media generation and brand reinforcement is Red Bull Media House. This production company, along with Vice, Vox Media, and others have increasingly promoted original content that caters to a digital-first audience. The full-fledged media ecosystems they've established is comparable to the Netflix or Amazon's "original series"— providing creative and memorable documentary news. Additionally, this pairing of information with video or graphics adds value and deters any attempt at reproduction— or diminution of the original authorship.
1 Ellick, Adam B., Adam Bryant, Amy O'Leary, A. G. Sulzberger, Andrew Phelps, Louise Story, Charles Duhigg, Jon Gahlinsky, and Ben Peskoe. Innovation. Report. New York Times. https://www.scribd.com/doc/224608514/The-Full-New-York-Times-Innovation-Report#fullscreen&from_embed.
2 Nicco Mele emphasized this monopoly on attention during his presentation on the news company's org chart in his class, Media and Journalism in the Digital Age.
3 According to an article by The Guardian, The Times lost "40% of its advertising revenue to Craigslist" alone.
4 Elisa, Shearer, and Gottfried Jeffrey. News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2017. Report. September 7, 2017. http://www.journalism.org/2017/09/07/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2017/.