It happened to me eight years ago. The magazine I owned dropped 75% sales in January 2009 amidst a perfect storm sparked by the U.S. financial crisis and the arrival of Internet advertising. Print budgets everywhere tanked and we held on long enough to sell the 21-year old magazine a year later.
In 2016, staff at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald were locked out. The Nanaimo Daily News (Black Press) and the Guelph Mercury (Torstar) founded in 1867 – the same year as Canadian Confederation – closed. Postmedia also laid off 90 newsroom staff at various publications as it consolidated operations under a heavy debt load.
Between 2008-09 and 2014-15, the proportion of ad spending fell by 96% for daily newspapers and 31% for community newspapers while increasing by 106% for the Internet. By contrast, commercial television stations in Canada saw their revenues decline by 14% between 2012 and 2014. The broadcast regulator, CRTC, has expressed concern over the 4% reduction in full-time employees for local news production.
Google and Facebook are winning the advertising race for revenues due to their scale. Facebook is sending the most digital traffic to news media Web sites — narrowly beating out Google…while Yahoo! News is the strongest web-only news brand in English Canada.
Despite the increase in online ad spending, disruption in the news sector is not restricted to the traditional formats.
BuzzFeed Canada cut its political reporting staff a little more than a year after its official launch. The social news company – valued at $1.5 billion with 18 offices around the world – claims more than 200 million monthly unique visitors, three-quarters of whom come to the site from social platforms.
And while we all know that smartphone usage for news is sharply up, the way we place display advertising in print doesn’t work on a smartphone. Ad blocking is on the rise, too.
Equally alarming is that very few of these media outlets are engaged in original reporting. Even worse, while the news ultimately gets covered, what isn’t getting covered may be more important.
It’s not difficult to see that sources of opinion are proliferating on social platforms, but sources of facts on which those opinions are based are shrinking. This, despite agreeing that journalism plays a central role in a healthy democracy by holding the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors accountable. Investigative journalism has its place in society.
What Now for Journalism Media?
The Liberal government increased funding of Canada’s public service broadcaster in September 2015 by $675m over five years and, at the same time, shifted its advertising to the Internet and away from daily newspapers. The federal government also asked the independent Public Policy Forum to study the decline of the traditional newspaper industry.
We expect to see recommendations soon from The Forum which asked these three questions:
- Does the deteriorating state of traditional media put at risk the civic function of journalism and thus the health of democracy?
- If so, are new digitally based news media filling the gap?
- If not, is there a role for public policy to help maintain a healthy flow of news and information, and how could it be done least intrusively?
In digital news, there has been much focus on the pioneering strategy of La Presse, the French-language publisher with the largest readership (including digital platforms).
The Quebec daily stopped printing a newspaper on weekdays, leaving just its Saturday print edition. Meanwhile, the award-winning La Presse+ app, launched in 2013, reports steady increases in readership, with more than 250,000 weekly tablet users.
The Toronto Star did not have so much success.
After the daily invested $14m in 2015 and $10m 2016 into their app, the newspaper reached only 26,000 daily users as of March, 2016.
Media in Transition
While Canada is spending $675m over 5 years to ask why the business model for journalism broke over the last decade, Google is laying out $664m over 3 years for publishers in Europe to launch innovative projects in digital journalism. Last year, 183 applicants were funded in the first round. Here are 4 examples.
- Spain’s eldiario.es identifies niche groups of audiences and invites them to fund a specific story or top up the financial gap in an important area of coverage.
- The German start-up, Spectrm, built an artificial intelligence engine using instant messaging apps.
- Svenska Dagbladet bet on the idea that readers would be willing to pay for content, if they:
- presented creative, premium, in-depth journalism;
- delivered innovative digital advertising solutions;
- offered interesting brand-stretching offers
Business models already have evolved as we change consumption habits of digital content. Here are 3 more examples of how media is being shaped.
usiness models already have evolved as we change consumption habits of digital content. Here are 3 more examples of how media is being shaped.
- The BBC paid $15m Canadian for 150 local reporters to cover municipal politics and provide their reports, including video and audio, to all local news media websites.
- The New York Times is re-investing in quality. CEO Mark Thompson said, “We spend more than 75 cents out of every dollar on news – in stark contrast with traditional print news organizations, even very good ones, that devote about 15 cents of each dollar spent to news.
- The same thing is happening with Time Inc.Uk. where leadership invested in premium content, data-driven intelligence, events, e-commerce, and modern ways of working.
7 Big Ideas for Media, Communications and Marketing
Alberta continues to ask, “How do we share our story with the rest of Canada and around the world?” There has never been a greater opportunity than today to capture and distribute our news…chronicle our legends…tell our version of events…describe our adventures…narrate our epic tales.
Here are 7 Ideas.
1. Newsrooms and corporate brands must become far closer strategic partners. For this interwoven culture to succeed, it is essential that trust and authenticity remain necessary ingredients.
2. Stories conceived by advertisers are positioned next to newsroom journalism but consumed on their own merits.
3. As part of an advertising growth strategy, content – news and commercial – are repurposed using audio, video, blogs, vlogs, apps, social media, social selling, live social, text messages, and other innovations such as Time Inc. UK’s Vlog Squad for young people. Their one-off special was packed with features on the most popular YouTube sensations.
4. Explore and monitor results of the partnership between Google and news publishers in Europe that promotes innovation in digital journalism.
5. Re-invest in quality journalism.
6. Invest in marketing strategies that engage subscribers ranging from the “freemium” level of participation to packaging of content for distribution to different markets. These strategies have been successfully evolving in the private sector over the last decade.
7. Encourage Alberta CEOs and the C-Suite to commit to building social enterprise in these ways:
- Lead by example
- Determine levels of understanding among board members and management of how social builds business
- Change the internal culture to be open and inclusive
- Train employees and trust them
- Make sure management understands the basics of the tech systems
- Link everybody
- Build communities of fans to share stories that work alongside content distributed via journalism media
- Establish metrics to monitor content distribution and engagement
The future belongs to the corporation that recognizes its strength is the sum of personal brands belonging to all who work there…to business partners…sponsors…interest groups…and customers.