The journalism industry is changing.
The digitalization of media has challenged traditional business models and led to heavy downsizing across the industry. Along with this, questions of fake news versus real news and a hostile White House administration have come together in 2017 to create what Terrance Egger, CEO and publisher of Philadelphia Media Network, is calling a “perfect storm.”
“I think it’s creating the conversation that we can have that says, ‘What’s at stake if the business model supporting journalism fails?’ ” Egger said.
At 3:30 p.m. Monday in the Hall of Philosophy, a special panel on “The Impact of Changing Ownership on Journalism,” moderated by Lauren Rich Fine, will tackle this very conversation.
Fine, managing director at Gries Financial, will be joined by Egger, along with Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica, and Susan Goldberg, editor-in-chief of National Geographic magazine and editorial director for National Geographic Partners.
Together, the four will discuss how ownership in the journalism industry is changing and will look at the various different business models that are emerging.
“Since 1995, with the beginning really of the internet, we’ve seen a lot of change in media in general — both how we report stories, how we disseminate stories and how our audience wants to read news and information,” Goldberg said. “As a result of those changes, there’s been a very large change to the business model.”
According to Goldberg, the world of journalism she entered when she began her career in 1980 was not so different from what it had been 50 years earlier.
“But ever since 1995, people’s patterns of news consumption and our methods of reporting news and information have changed drastically,” Goldberg said.
She believes the digitalization of media has had a positive effect in allowing publications to reach wider audiences. However, the greatest negative effect of this change has been a large amount of downsizing across the industry.
“A lot of wonderful people who were journalists are no longer working as journalists,” Goldberg said. “(This means) fewer feet on the street reporting the activities of public officials and elected officials and of people in roles of authority; fewer people reporting on events going on — on everything from a community level to a state level to the federal level to the world stage.”
According to Egger, the biggest challenge currently facing the journalism industry is finding sources of revenue.
“The major media companies continue to produce great content, they continue to generate great audiences with that content; however, the ability to monetize that audience content with advertising has changed dramatically in the last 12 years or so,” Egger said.
Much of this problem stems from the fact that the vast majority of advertising revenue goes to content distributors — such as Google and Facebook — rather than content creators. The second biggest problem, Egger believes, is the “free mentality” that has accompanied the rise of the internet and made it difficult for creators to get paid for their content. He believes that moving forward, newspapers need to try to maintain their profitability while simultaneously finding ways to innovate.
“I think innovation needs to be in monetization of our content on digital platforms,” Egger said. “I think innovation needs to be creation of new niche products within our own local markets. … I think collaboration (is needed) as an industry to be able to negotiate … more reasonable, favorable business deals with the Googles and Facebooks of the world.”
ProPublica, a not-for-profit that focuses on investigative and accountability journalism, is an example of innovation in the industry. According to Tofel, 98 to 99 percent of ProPublica’s funding comes from philanthropy.
“We think investigative journalism plays an important role and it’s a role that’s much harder to play in this new business situation that the press really has found itself in in the last 12 years or so,” Tofel said.
Fine, who spent a significant portion of her career analyzing stock values within the media industry, believes discussing the different and changing ownership models in journalism is important, in part because ownership can affect what content gets produced.
“The ownership gets to chose in a sense what the agenda should be, and therein matters greatly,” Fine said.
For Goldberg, who at National Geographic represents a vastly different business model from ProPublica, it is important that people understand that news and information are not and cannot be free.
“News and information is really expensive to collect and disseminate, and if people want high quality news and information, they’re going to have to pay for it,” Goldberg said, “whether that’s through a printed product or a digital platform.”
Looking to the future, she believes that small, community newspapers and large, national players will continue to exist; the greatest pressure point on the industry right now is in the large metro dailies.
“I hope that people understand that journalism ownership, just like journalism itself, is changing,” Goldberg said.
Tofel said one thing is clear — there will continue to be many different ownership models.
“Which I think is fascinating, but I think will have some interesting effects,” Tofel said.