Since the launch of CTNewsJunkie in 2005, the premise has been consistent. We have attempted to provide timely, accurate, and fair news reporting from the state legislature as well as analysis of what’s really happening behind the scenes, behind the spin, and behind the data. All on a shoestring.
After an anemic few years, our readership grew into a sustainable zone. That was primarily based on the launch of our Friday Night Fix email newsletter, which quintupled our site visits in about 10 weeks, and we were off and running.
A few years later we launched our Morning Coffee & Politics email newsletter and moved our visitor traffic to a higher plateau. We began to see better advertising revenue to support the operation. We have since provided an afternoon email and apps for candidate surveys and legislation tracking.
But “sustainable” is not successful, per se, and bootstrapping is hard in any industry. Adding to the challenge, the information marketplace is always changing at the whim of tech companies. We have now seen the global proliferation of smartphones and social media platforms, ushering in a cultural/behavioral shift around the world. And yes, we jumped in on social in an effort to promote our content to a wider audience. But we did so with a goal of maintaining civility, as it were, on those platforms. That may have blunted our growth a bit, but civility matters in public discourse. As do the facts.
Facebook certainly did generate visits to our website, as did Twitter to a lesser extent. Google search has remained one of our largest sources of visitor traffic.
We saw Facebook try to engage the news media with digital media accelerator programs, including support for independent news companies in the form of a few thousand dollars during difficult times, and also millions of dollars for publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. In 2019, Facebook promised $300 million in support of local journalism and they helped a lot of news publishers optimize their membership programs for growth on the Facebook platform. Google has offered similar programs and funding, and continues to do so through its Google News Showcase.
But Facebook, which now goes by Meta, has decided to part ways with the news industry, apparently. Among the potential reasons for the change: litigation from legacy media companies (many of which are owned by predatory hedge funds) claiming the social media giant stole their advertising, and; possible regulatory action may be coming as political leaders seek to break up social media giants that have grown too large. Regardless, the newly branded “Meta” gambled on a virtual reality platform of the same name and then announced 11,000 layoffs about a week ago. So that leaves our shrinking industry with one less partner, but still one huge competitor for readers’ attention.
That competitive aspect of the internet has been the rub from day one with social media. News companies like ours want people to see our posts on a social network and then leave the social media platform in order to read, watch, or listen to our news reports. The goal of Facebook and other social networks, however, has always been to keep you on their platforms. Based on that, many news publishers really do carry the perception that Facebook “stole” their advertising. But it’s a false premise.
Yes, newspapers and other legacy media companies have lost advertisers to social media. But that’s only because they followed newspaper readers over to the social networks. Meta, when it was still Facebook, created a product that essentially uses artificial intelligence to gather user data. If you haven’t seen “The Social Dilemma” documentary, I highly recommend it. It depicts for us how Facebook essentially learned everything it possibly could about human behavior with smartphones, and the company then adapted its interface to turn smartphone users into social media addicts. (*Facebook’s reaction to the film was not complimentary and they suggested their company was scapegoated.)
According to 2022 data, the average user spends 147 minutes per day on social media, with about 30 minutes of that on Facebook. TikTok and Youtube top the list with users spending over 45 minutes per day on each. “Marketshare” doesn’t really explain what social media has for an audience. We are addicted users.
Look around you in the grocery store, or anywhere in public. People are constantly looking down at their smartphones, stumbling around. Bumping into things. Mostly they are looking at social media. (Worse, they are often driving, but that’s another topic).
We in the digital news industry are attempting to bypass social media through email – people do spend a lot of time in their email. This is smart. But will it solve the problem? Not likely. Not until we admit what the problem is.
The news industry has lost probably more than 50,000 newsroom employees over the last several years. Fact-checkers and verification experts, all of them. Think of the national impact of not having those community experts on the job, and note also the simultaneous rise of misinformation. All of us need to maintain a healthy news diet to stay informed and keep nonsense out of our public discourse. Our communities and institutions depend on us all to make sure we are using the best information we can get from trusted sources, rather than from someone you’ve never met on social media.
If you want to know the real reason your electricity bills are going up 50%, read about it at CTNewsJunkie.com, rather than in a comment thread on social media.
All of the above is our way of saying the professional news industry – particularly those that are independent like us – are always going to be needed. And so today we are kicking off our fall membership drive.
Help us continue our mission by signing up for our Morning Coffee & Politics email here and also consider becoming a Press Patron. If you sign up for at least $75/year or $7/month, those funds will support our work directly and you’ll get the Premium version of our morning newsletter.
And if you work in politics and your firm could use some new clients, get in touch with me here about advertising. We’re here to help.
Don’t wait – sign up today. Every new membership keeps us reporting. Happy Holidays!