The dependence on advertising revenue discourages newsrooms from pursuing critical business news investigations, according to research from Maha Rafi Atal of the University of Cambridge.
In Journalism, Atal writes, “Business editors are aware of and concerned about these dual forms of advertiser power and the control it places on their operations. At one outlet, managers said they were trying to ‘undo’ advertising dependence with the introduction of other forms of revenue, or the re-introduction of subscriptions, a change welcomed by the business desk:
The long-term plan is not to be advertising dependent, or advertising focused …. To do the kind of journalism we do, by essentially abandoning advertising, reorienting our focus to engaging readings to get them to pay for our product. Journalistically, that’s kind of liberating. (Business editor, Newsroom A, interview conducted 17 March 2016)
It is an open question whether this will succeed. Moreover, these are legacy outlets, and if current trends hold, may in time come to represent a smaller share of the overall news sector. Readership statistics that show the readers for these sites aging suggests that the main sources of future news consumption will be online-only startups. As such, the question of critical business coverage must be solved at the level of these new companies.
These new outlets do not show the desire to do investigative coverage of business. They do, however, publish it if it is initiated elsewhere. For example, the recent ‘Panama Papers’ stories about the tax evasion facilitated by the Mossack Fonsaca law firm to its clients around the world have been widely published by 107 news organizations, including many digital outlets.
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