How the Media Makes Money

In an ideal world, funding for journalism would come from consumers making choices in the marketplace. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Advertising plays a fundamental role in sustaining news production. Jones and Salter cite Robert L. Craig who suggests that the media is “structurally dependant” on advertising. This means that advertising supports news organisations but only when it is in keeping with their interests. So while advertisers do not have direct influence on content, they do influence which organisations are sustained.

Online journalism has had a dramatic effect on the way media organisations do business as the increase in advertising space online has caused prices to fall. As Paul Starr points out in his article ‘Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to a New Era of Corruption)’, consumers do not have to pay to read the news online, therefore the Internet has undermined the profitability of the newspaper in a number of ways.

“Newspapers have been able to make money from their print editions at both ends: by charging advertisers for eyeballs, and by charging the eyeballs, too. But online there are other news sources such as sites run by TV and radio stations, which have never charged their viewers or listeners. So, for newspapers, there goes circulation as well as advertising income.” However, the authors raise an interesting argument. Is the Internet just being used as an excuse to cut costs? As Jones and Salter point out, the economic challenges faced by traditional media were present long before the onslaught of the Internet and were “spurned on by digitalization more generally.”

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Has the News Industry Become Complacent?

The authors argue that the media has failed to adapt to technological developments and bypassed the opportunity to reinvent the industry. Furthermore, they argue this decision serves the best interests of the larger media conglomerates.

While they do stand to lose millions, these media firms are willing to take the losses in order to protect their investments, because they have the resources to do so. In this way they can effectively buy out the competition and have a monopoly on advertising and other revenue. This undoubtedly has an impact on journalistic content.

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Journalism and the Internet

The Internet should deliver a means of improving journalism. Unlike newspapers and television stations, websites can be run with little financial cost and distribution costs are significantly lowered on the net. Therefore, the amount of time and resources journalists can dedicate to a story should increase dramatically.

However, the emphasis put on cutting costs by media firms means new technologies have seen journalists made redundant or re-skilled so that their workload increases with technical tasks. This in turn leads to the use of multi-platform reproduction or ‘shovelware’.

Many of the reporters being lost are taking with them the local knowledge and relationships with trusted sources that had taken years to build. Paul Starr points out that foreign coverage has declined as many of the newspaper correspondents working abroad have been let go. Space dedicated to arts and science has also been significantly reduced.

It takes enormous resources to adapt newsrooms to new media environments. There are countless examples of online versions of newspapers and magazines that have much poorer editorial standards.

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Citizen Journalism

The authors talk about ‘crowdsourcing’, which is the practice by editors and journalists of using the Internet to source information produced by ordinary citizens. The danger lies in the fact that corporate media often looks at the content as being cheap or free and exploits it.

The chapter explores the argument that citizen journalism is undermining professional journalism. However, it also looks at the ways in which participatory journalism can be helpful and how engaging the public can produce richer content.

Paul Starr (2009) seems to be wary on this issue stating, “Online there are few clear markers to distinguish blogs and other sites that are being financed to promote a viewpoint from news sites operated independently on the basis of professional rules of reporting.

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Distribution

The final point raised in the chapter is the bias of search engines and portals towards corporate sources. The methods used by search engine’s to look for websites ultimately rank large media corporations higher thus increasing traffic to their sites.

While it is relatively easy to get your views published on the web, clearly it is much more difficult to get them noticed.

Online media outlets such as Demand Media are shaping their content based on possible search terms as Daniel Roth (2009) points out in his article ‘The Answer Factory‘. “They shoot slapdash instructional videos with titles like “How to Draw a Greek Helmut” and “Dog Whistle Training Techniques”. They write guides about lunch meat safety and nonprofit administration. They pump out an endless stream of bulleted lists and tutorials about the most esoteric of subjects.”

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Critical Reading of Chapter 2

The chapter asks the question:

Are the institutional constraints for journalists lessened in the digital environment?

Online Journalism

As Clay Shirky states in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organising without Organizations, the way to beat institutional constraints for journalists is to get rid of the concept of institution completely. You remove the packaging and all you are left with is the product. However by taking away the institution, you are taking away the brand association that goes with it, a concept that some critics feel wouldn’t work.

For Paul Graham consumers of news are still first and foremost consumers and should be viewed as such, just as newspapers should be seen as a marketable commodity. “Consumers never really were paying for content, and publishers weren’t really selling it either….Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant”.

The Relationship between Institution, the Journalist, and the Consumer.

In trying to assess the need for institution John Vernon Pavlik addresses the issue well when he stated in 2000:

We need to ask ourselves: What are the most effective roles for journalists in an age where citizens can increasingly go directly to the source? Traditional forms of media should embrace new media because

“They can build new communities based on shared interests and concerns; and since [they have] the almost unlimited space to offer levels of reportorial depth, texture, and context that are impossible in any other medium….new media can transform journalism.”

As we saw in the chapter this new “unlimited amounts of space” the internet provides- has increased institutional constraints for journalism as- formal institutions now must compete with all this internet space for advertising, effecting funding.

For Dominc Boyer however, it is not simply a matter of re-evaluating the relationship between journalist, institution and consumer.

In an online article Digital Expertise in Online Journalism and Anthropology (Project Muse) Boyer maintains that the institution of the newspaper is weakening as the digital environment strengthens. “In an era in which most western news organization are shedding staff to meet investors’ demands for profitability in the face of falling advertising revenues, online news departments are experiencing growth”.

Irish Newspaper’s struggle to align themselves within this changing world of journalism is apparent from the recent controversy over Irish newspapers and their attempts to charge organisations such as Woman’s Aid a fee for linking to their article.

 The Problem of the Citizen Journalist:

“By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community”. Oscar Wilde

banner20101There undeniably positive aspects that have come with the Citizen Journalist. They play an important role in capturing news worthy situations that occur without warning:

However, they do not have to adhere to any code of conduct or ethics which may allow for bias or unreliable reporting.

In terms of the institutional constraints faced by journalists….the digital environment means they must deal with the shear amount of information out there and fight against what he refers to as “informational noise”.The problem is: People will or maybe have become over-saturated with the amount of news sources out there.Journalists must figure out how we can cut through the clutter and provide some clarity to people as to what’s important.

In the past it was more the role of the journalist to publish something that without his research would not have existed- but today the role is increasingly to evaluate the material that others are generating. And to organize it.

For Dominic Boyer: “The consumer is still the way he always was, with limited time and with limited competence”. However surely the average consumer of news has been changed by the internet age as much as newspapers. They are now saturated with more information and surely this would mean they have a different spectrum of aptitude.

If the consumer is different and the journalist’s role is different the task of journalism can be defined as separating the news from the internet noise.

An Irish example of this:

RTE contains a library on its premises which would have in the past been been a central focus point of journalistic research. Recently RTE invested in iphones for a considerable amount of its reporters in an effort to make them more self-sufficient. This is a reflection on the need to cut down on resources, and merge departments but also a reflection on the means by which journalists gather information. While a library would have been crucial to journalistic investigation and the verification of facts 50 years ago, now not only is most of journalism conducted online, it is increasingly taking place on the field as opposed to an office.

Boyer articulates: The task of the journalist has been redefined: as “a special capacity to identify significance within informational clutter” but acknowledges that “thematic selection and news filtering have long been aspects of news journalism” but that now they are elevated to a “new jurisdictional importance at the core of the identity  of online journalism”.

So to come back to the question that the chapter presents us with:

Are the institutional constraints for journalists lessened in the digital environment.

Yes, it seems. But only because journalists must make the transition to the digital environment, accept their formal death and accept their rebirth as informational mediators.

“We need journalism probably more than we’ve ever needed it.” Jon Jatz

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