OLD Media Moves

Business models and business journalism

November 1, 2013

Posted by Liz Hester

The second panel discussion at Talking Biz News’ conference at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York invited those on the business end of journalism to talk about the model for making money and what the future may bring.

The discussion touched on a variety of topics including pay walls for web sites, sponsored content, the decline of advertising dollars and how organizations may choose to brand their content.

Bill Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at the Columbia University School of Journalism and former managing editor at WSJ.com, mentioned that some pay walls have had more success than others. Models, like that of the New York Times, were a certain amount of content is free, then you have to pay seems to be working better. Grueskin mentioned the Dallas Morning News’ recent decision to take down its pay wall completely after losing customers.

Most panelists agreed that people would pay for quality, original content and that’s being demonstrated at publications of all sizes. At American City Business Journals, group publisher and executive vice president Rob Fisher said it was exploring ways to get those who subscribe to its print publications, those who pay for emailed content and people who attend events to pay a bit more or to purchase additional products.

Much of his revenue model, which is driven by local journalism, comes from non-journalism sources such as events as well as people paying for premium access or other items. They charge for reprints, links, the use of PDFs and other low cost, higher margin items.

Another force that publishers will have to content with is the rise in competition from journalism nonprofits, foundations, and privately funded organizations, said Steve Shepard, founding dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and former editor of BusinessWeek.

“What’s heartening to me is the rise of parallel universe in biz journalism,” he said. He mentioned that CUNY would begin a new program in the fall funding journalists who want to do long-form, investigative pieces. They would differ from other nonprofits in that they wouldn’t have their own staff, but seek out reporters with good ideas who needed funding to get them done.

Another disruptive change in the journalism business model is that people are looking for sites to find, organize and aggregate the best content for them, said Ranjan Roy, cofounder of Informerly.com, which is focused on delivering e-commerce news to global professionals. He also mentioned the rise of sponsored content, arguing that readers are accepting of content that doesn’t interrupt their reading.

“The opportunity in sponsored content is about generating an experience that doesn’t interrupt your reader and is as good as your original stories,” Roy said. He mentioned the advent of Facebook and Twitter sponsored posts, which are delivered in the same manner as regular social media.

Elisabeth DeMarse, chief executive officer of TheStreet.com, said that video was another area of opportunity for all sites, including sponsored content. She cited an example of a company sponsoring a video interview with one of their experts as a good example of this type of content. DeMarse, along with many others, are investing in video technology in the newsroom in order to more quickly produce this content on breaking news story.

Shepard urged organizations to have guidelines around sponsored content including how to label it clearly and what to call it. He was dismayed by some outlets calling this content sponsored journalism and said the industry needed to create professional guidelines.

Much of the future of journalism will depend on those on the business side making money. Panelists agreed the model differed for various publications, but that it would involve some type of non-advertising revenue.

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