Disruption and transformation are a bumpy ride. But during these last several months, the transformation of the news industry seems to have been further derailed by a mutation.
The mutants — interloper propaganda sites parading as news — took over the web during the final months of the election and most certainly changed the conditions on the ground for legitimate news organizations. It’s a bigger problem than just trying to figure out a sustainable model to fund good reporting — people are apparently more apt to gravitate to nonsense.
It’s a bad sign for our society. And yes, I’m painting with a broad brush here. But it is a serious problem. And you can look forward to this as well — in a few short months, those same purveyors of fake news are going to need to feed their animal, and they probably, inevitably, will turn against those who were their friends and start smearing them as well. Count on it. This has been, and continues to be, a race to the bottom with respect to our public discourse.
But there may have been a silver lining to this mess of fake news and propaganda. Despite being targeted for abuse and derided by partisans for perceived biases, the New York Times and the Washington Post reportedly saw huge gains in digital subscriptions during and immediately following the election.
(Cue the theme from Rocky)
Legitimate, legacy news organizations saw growth in subscriptions and donations despite not offering their readers free lollypops, listicles, and shiny objects or otherwise compromising the quality of their product to drive traffic to their advertisers.
And based on their recent success, according to the Nieman Labs, the New York Times is setting its sights on 10 million digital subscribers.
In an industry that’s seen its national employment numbers drop nearly 50 percent in the last 10 years, that’s great news for news.
And it’s one of several indicators that there is a way forward for thorough, factual, dogged reporting despite a deluge of bull from clickbait profiteers and propaganda publishers.
If it was easy for organizations as large and as old as the Times or the Post to pivot to digital profitability, while still saddled with the cost of maintaining print operations, many newspapers would have done it by now. And still many others wouldn’t have gone under. But nothing is easy. And while a lot of newspaper people will tell you it’s a miracle that they are still going at all, it’s an even bigger miracle that the Times and the Post might actually be growing into digital.
Within that silver lining are some other positives. Over these last 15 years or so, legitimate, professional web news publications — not saddled with legacy costs or debt — have been positioning themselves to fill the growing void in local news coverage. More and more they’re starting to see support from readers and funders, and it’s pretty clear that we, as a society, are going to need these entrepreneurial journalists if we want legitimate news coverage of our towns. By and large, the big dailies aren’t coming back on the local level.
As you may have noticed, CTNewsJunkie is a member of the LION Publishers group, which is a nonprofit professional association for Local Independent Online News publishers. LION now has 140 member publications in 36 states. The organization was launched to help independent journalists and publishers find new, sustainable business models.
The group reached its current status on a bare minimum of foundation support and member dues, but on the heels of the ugliest election of our lifetimes and the announcement that the Times and Post each saw huge growth in digital subscriptions, the Knight Foundation has awarded a $200,000 grant to LION so that the group can take a big step forward to hire a full-time director and continue helping publishers build and perfect sustainable business models online.
That grant from Knight is a big deal in many ways. Because of its focus on business, LION is a unique organization in the news industry. Many LIONs are one- or two-person operations, but there are others who have become integral parts of their communities with a handful of employees. Some are hiring. It has taken some time to get here, but publishers — and readers — are taking that leap of faith to either launch their news businesses or to support the one that started covering their town with a simple website and a daily email.
And this is where you come in as a CTNewsJunkie reader. Credible, professional journalism needs reader support.
We are in our 11th year here at CTNewsJunkie — and that’s without foundation support. We’ve been a frugal and flexible small business and will continue to push the envelope wherever possible. We are almost fully sustainable. But we’re not going to compromise our product to catch up with propaganda machines.
Those organizations aren’t helping anyone. We are.
What this all means is pretty simple: CTNewsJunkie may be free to access, but it’s not free to produce professional news reporting. Help us out by joining our team and becoming a subscriber at a level that works for you. Or consider adding your firm to our Directory as an official sponsor. You won’t regret it.