News Profit

papersI guess that could be prophet, but that’s a bit cheeky and I already miss the Amatriciana.

The impetus of media properties to destroy their product marches on. Bottom-line news gathering, a strict misnomer, has become the new if nonsensical metric. Where can this be headed, other than the obvious? The Washington Monthly looks at the future of cross-subsidies:

In the past, when media companies funded labor-intensive journalism—foreign coverage, investigative projects, beat reporters who spend days tracking down leads—we believed this reportage was very valuable, even financially. Readers wanted to know, advertisers liked the prestige that high-quality reporting brought, and the publications made plenty of money.

Occasionally a wiseass would say something like, “The box scores are paying for the Baghdad bureau,” and we thought, Well, maybe that cross-subsidy exists, maybe it doesn’t—but the whole package seems to be doing just fine.

The Internet blew apart the package and eliminated the cross-subsidy. Now readers can go to ESPN and get box scores, and they can go to a separate site to get news. Sports scores no longer subsidize the foreign correspondent, and the comics no longer support the city hall reporter.

This has led us to confront the ugly reality of just how lousy—financially speaking—many of our journalistic projects were. Media managers can now produce a profit-and-loss statement not only for the news division as a whole, but for each reporter—and each piece of content.

That is a dangerous sort of urgency. Immediate returns on investment is just instant gratification by [barely] another name. It’s not a viable practice for anything.

More broadly, news can be boring. What we are convincing ourselves to be true is merely self-fulfilling, and an indication that any number of things could be. But once information and news reporting become just more ‘content’ that has to compete for eyeballs, then we really need to keep one eye on the till. But beyond certain levels of comfort, even paranoia is not a sufficient motivating force. The challenge to education is ignorance; the need to know, in order to inform our assent or rejection, only grows with the complexity shrouded in simple choices. Re-discovering self-interest can be brutal and unforgiving, but it’s the only thing that will liberate the buyer’s impulse.