Business executives from media outlets nationwide joined with journalism scholars and policy makers to discuss viable business strategies for American media.
Listen to the session here:
Kristen Ashburn, Photojournalist
Brian Baird, Representative, United States House of Representatives
Steve Capus, President, NBC News
Lynn Dolnick, Member, Board of Directors, The New York Times Company
Craig Dubow, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Gannett Co., Inc.
Rick Edmonds, Media Business Analyst, The Poynter Institute
Matthew Gentzkow, Professor of Economics and Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow, University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Lisa Graves, Executive Director, Center for Media and Democracy
Rob Grimshaw, Managing Director, FT.com
Joel Gurin, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Chief Federal Communications Commission
Bonnie Hammer, President, NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Universal Cable Productions
William Hoynes, Author, The Business of Media: Corporate Media and the Public Interest
Jonathan Knee, Senior Managing Director, Evercore Partners
Marty Moe, Senior Vice President, AOL Media
Tom Rosenstiel, Director, Pew Research Center Project on Excellence in Journalism
Scott Suhy, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, PointAbout
Hal Varian, Chief Economist, Google
Phoebe Yang, Senior Advisor on Broadband Federal Communications Comission
The discussion of the future of American media focused mostly on traditional news and media--especially "'serious' journalism"--although television, entertainment media, and federal regulation all came up in the course of the two-and-a-half-hour dialogue. Primary among the group's concerns were business models for monetizing (and, some said, "saving") journalism. Participants agreed that no single business model will work for all brands, platforms, or types of content, although most agreed that some kind of service-oriented models seem to be the future.
"Publishers have to be smart about putting up a pay wall because most people have never paid for news.... But you only need to get a small percentage of the population to pay for news. Not everyone will pay." -- Rob Grimshaw, Financial Times
Brands continue to be important, according to those at the table, and participants agreed that business models need to keep in mind how important it is to preserve and continue to expand the brand at every opportunity. This includes making investments in "real news," and not cutting costs in the newsrooms and elsewhere on the production side.
Representatives from both the content and business side of a variety of media outlets strongly disagreed over what the government's role should be. Passions ran high on the subject of government intervention, particularly when it came to public media (PBS, NPR, etc.). Some said that local journalism in particular would be the hardest hit by declining revenues and would need direct government help in order to continue providing a public service (journalism and "serious" news). Opponents cited the First Amendment among other reasons to keep the government out. Some trust "the market" and some believe that the market will abandon "serious journalism."
"Generic content has to be free, and you have to offer preview samples of premium content. Every kind of information has to have a preview capability." --Hal Varian, Chief Economist, Google
Somewhat surprisingly, social networks only briefly came up as part of a conversation about broadening the breadth of content and brand visibility (letting readers influence the brand and generate traffic, for example), and as part of a broader discussion on personalizing and focusing media back onto "service-oriented" approaches.
"Young people have a very different view of what 'serious journalism' is, and why they might pay for it. My students expect their news to be free, but they recognize that [paying journalists] is going to be a problem." -- William Hoynes, Director, American Culture Program at Vassar College
Five Big Ideas from our Media Experts:
1. Paywalls work, sometimes: why are some people able to put up pay walls and others can't? No single model is going to work for everyone, and media companies must each come to its own conclusions about the feasibility of a paywall for monetizing their content.
2. Service-oriented media products are the future: they are an important part of bringing people behind a pay wall. Creating an interactive experience with media is part of end-users' expectations, but the media brand has to have a strong understanding of its audience in order to tailor products accordingly and build value.
3. The market for local news is weak, while national news (including "traditional" journalism), currently has the most positive outlook for continued economic viability.
4. Journalism isn't dead, and in fact may be better than ever, quality-wise. And contrary to conventional wisdom, young people are voracious news readers. News-reading is the second-most popular activity on the web, and 40 percent of Americans have read news online in the past week.
5. Cutting costs in the newsroom and on the production-side kills the quality of news media and not only damages the brand, but also slows traffic and therefore revenue. Better news means better readership and a healthier business.