The news media is enjoying a renaissance today after fears of imminent death. It’s not reviving because a new business model was found. It’s reviving because the persistent need for news finds its own business model. We need to learn about our current events somehow — and the newsrooms and money coalesced around new ways.
There is a clear lesson in this. Media relations will remain a vital part of successful organizations because the media will always be there regardless of how the bills get paid.
For a while, oceans of digital ink were spilt trying to figure out how news can make money again after more and more traditional news brands and newsrooms got massacred, or withered up and died. That raised the question of whether media relations would continue to be needed.
Now we live in an era of online news proliferation that includes diverse brands like PandoDaily, Quartz, Vox Media, Re/code, and the list goes on. The Pew Research Center reported in 2013 that the ranks of reporters had vastly shrunk and were expected to continue to decline, but the research appeared to focus on traditional newspaper newsrooms. In 2014, Pew noted that digital news was becoming a serious force – with the 468 organizations they examined hosting 5,000 fulltime journalist positions in the digital news world.
The “why” is important. If some brilliant minds figured out a new revenue stream, then you can imagine a world where news becomes less important or is sidelined. If you believe in that world, you may get caught underinvesting in your media relations capability. Rather, you need to count on the news media always coming back, likely in different, even stronger forms.
Look at investors in both new and old media for some clues. Billionaires are buying newspapers and starting news brands, but they can’t expect a big payoff from the news products alone. Alex Dalenberg from the Upstart Business Journal offered a great appraisal of this in his dissection of Jeff Bezos’ acquiring The Washington Post.
Owning a newsroom gives you a foot in the world of ideas, influence and power. There’s a need for news, and if you’re in the middle of it, that benefits you. Optimists can analogize the wealthy’s patronage to the benefits of being a good and charitable steward of the arts or a worthy social program – something more than a vanity project or owning a sports team. The Economist’s Matthew Bishop nods to this with his ideas on “philanthrocapitalism.” Timothy Luke at Virginia Tech takes a decidedly cynical view of the intents and outcomes of wealthy sponsorship in such books as “Shows of Force: Politics, Power, and Ideology in Art Exhibitions” and “Museum Politics: Powerplays at the Exhibition.”
There’s a deep human urge to learn what’s going on in the world. Those with money will invest in it. There will be experimentation in how to scale it and keep the lights on. We come back to that clear and simple lesson: You ignore the media and your capability to interact with it at your own peril. You can choose to pursue it or wait for the day a journalist calls you up, but it’s not going away.