I have blogged this week about various aspects of digital-first journalism. For any of that to succeed, digital-first must succeed as a business approach.
It will. It is. I’m not going to explain that in detail in this post, though. I’m going to shift to curation (an important process and skill in digital-first journalism), because lots of people have already explained the business aspects of the digital-first approach well.
John Paton, CEO of Digital First Media (and Journal Register Co. and MediaNews Group) explained the company’s business approach better than I would (which is good, since he’s the CEO) in his June address to the International Newsroom Summit in Zurich: How the Crowd Saved Our Company. His recent post on news media as medium and messenger elaborates, including the slide below. His September post announcing the formation of Digital First discussed some of the results of the approach so far (and we’re just getting started).
Peter Kirwan’s analysis of the digital-first approach also provides a good explanation. Ken Doctor’s post The newsonomics of ComboCo gave some insight on our plans (though much of it was speculative, so you might not see everything he mentioned).
The digital-first approach entails experimentation with new business approaches as well as new journalism tools. Subscriptions or meters (the preferred terminology of paywall advocates) hardly count as experimentation, because they have been tried so often and so many ways, with different results. Jeff Jarvis has an intriguing idea, though, with his suggestion of a reverse pay meter. Jeff rightly says his proposal can’t work, because it relies on persuading people to pay. But I think some of the principles might work to encourage engagement in a model where the rewards come from sponsors, rather than from persuading users to subscribe.
The reverse pay meter reminds me a bit of the membership approach encouraged by Steve Outing. I’d like to explore a mashup of Steve’s membership idea with some of Jeff’s ideas for rewarding member participation.
Of course, I’ve written a fair amount on possible ways for a digital-first business to succeed, too:
- Cultivating multiple revenue streams
- Taking a different approach to obituaries (and other life stories)
- Mobile-first strategy
- The Complete Community Connection (my blueprint is nearly three years old and parts are surely outdated, but I’m sure other parts remain valid)
I’m not saying that Digital First Media is going to do all of the things I’ve described here (except those John Paton says we’re doing). But I think you’ll see our company trying a good number of these approaches and succeeding at most of them. And I hope other companies that have declared themselves digital-first try other revenue approaches.
I do know this: Newspaper advertising revenues have dropped by 64 percent (after adjusting for inflation) from the third quarter of 2005 to the third quarter of this year. After 21 straight quarters of dropping ad revenues, the news business needs a new revenue approach. I think digital-first is that approach.
This concludes this week’s series of blog posts about digital-first journalism. The previous posts covered the workflow, values and thinking of digital-first journalists and leading a digital-first newsroom.
I’ll write more about digital-first journalism after the holidays. People have already requested blog posts on beatblogging and on the workflow of business, investigative and feature reporters as well as reporters with multiple beats. I’ve been thinking of writing about training and how you measure digital-first success. I’m planning posts about the digital-first approaches to breaking news and engagement. What are other aspects of the digital-first approach you’d like me to blog about?
September 2014 update: This post originally referred to my work for Digital First Media and thus capitalized Digital First throughout. I have left DFM and thought I should update this. I am still a huge believer in digital-first journalism, and still plan to lead workshops based on the points here, but I thought I should update this post to reflect that I’m talking now about an approach to journalism, not a specific company. I’m planning some new blog posts this fall on the digital-first approach to the news business.