I write a lot about journalism here, which isn’t really part of my brief. Reading a fascinating new report on the Tow Center for Digital Journalism website, I realised why. It’s because although advertising and journalism have only really been connected by historical accident, so much of what needs to happen in each industry is the same. Even as the two businesses decouple, we should be learning from each other. And we have a lot to learn from the Tow Center report (http://towcenter.org/ research/post-industrial-journalism/introduction).
To start with, they have some usefully felicitous phrases that I’m sure will turn up in Media Futures presentations very shortly, namely: "The most important thing about the relationship between advertising and journalism is that there isn’t one." And: "Most outlets for news aren’t in the news business but the advertising business."
They then offer a handy overview of online advertising revenue, nicely explaining its seemingly inevitable drive to the bottom and making it clear to news businesses that, whatever happens, advertising money is not coming back. The message is very clear: whatever you do, whatever happens, wherever you plan to get money, there’s not going to be as large a subsidy for news as there used to be. And if you want to keep doing news, then you need to find ways to do it for less money.
This seems obvious, but it’s still a relatively unusual theme in the old media/digital media conversation, which typically focuses on exciting new sources of income and booming new markets. Or about preserving established ways of doing things. Never, much, about making more with less. That tends to be relegated to the covering rhetoric for lay-offs and downsizing.
But all the evidence suggests that the only way you can make new technology really work for your business is if you use it to overhaul the way you do fundamental things. Not just "pave the cowpaths" but redesign your business around new possibilities. And the Tow Center report is full of ideas about how journalism might do that. It feels like a corne has been turned – they’ve given up on "the golden age" and they’re working out how to keep journalism alive; how, even, to make it better. So a business such as Narrative Science, which uses software to turn data into written English, isn’t just dismissed as inauthentic or improbable – they look at it with an open mind.
Maybe it’s time for someone in our world to write a similar report. To lay out, clearly and concisely, the nature of the problem (that the money’s not coming back) and to spell out some of the technologies and practices we should be trying. It wouldn’t preserve the old world, but it might get us working on the new one sooner.