Let this statistic sink in for a moment.
- Total number of journalists in the U.S.: 40,000
- Total number of Google employees: 54,000
Google was founded in 1998. Journalism may have died around the same time.
Try this one on for size.
- There are 3.6 public relations professionals for every single journalist. Nearly 4 to 1.
Robert McChesney, author of “The Death and Life of American Journalism,” recently told Pro Publica:
“What we are seeing now is the demise of journalism at the same time we have an increasing level of public relations and propaganda. We are entering a zone that has never been seen before in this country.”
More than 30 percent of all journalism jobs have vanished since 2000, according to Pew Research’s latest report on the state of the news media. Readership is at all time lows – with decreases in every format except digital. And even though audiences are moving online and to mobile technologies, media outlets have already lost the battle for digital advertising to technology companies like Google and Facebook.
The state of the media in the United States is in freefall.
Newspapers for all intents and purposes are already dead. Ad revenues at newspapers have fallen 60 percent in the last decade. Newspaper newsrooms are at their lowest employment levels since the birth of Ashton Kutcher (1978). And the quality of journalism at newspapers – with the drastic cuts and reduced staffs – is mediocre at best – causing even more readers to flee in droves.
And if you believe that a free and independent media is an important pillar in living in a democracy then you should be concerned. Very concerned.
Can journalism saved? Not without radical change.
Here are three thought starters on saving journalism:
1. Changing laws to force content aggregators to share revenue
Technology companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Yahoo and many other aggregation sites should shared ad revenues with content creators. Take Google as an example. Google’s search collects, archives and categorizes content on the web and showcases to users based on their search queries. They sell advertising around this service – basically making a killing by repackaging and selling the content that other people create. When a user clicks a link and goes to another web site for the content that site should receive a percentage of the money Google makes from the transaction.
This revenue sharing makes sure that people who create content get a share of the revenue generated from it. If you think of Google as a publisher then this shift is a no brainer. Publishers (book publishers, magazine publishers, music publishers, etc.) all pay their content creators part of the proceeds they make selling their content. The biggest and most popular content creators naturally get a larger percentage of the revenue.
This is crucial and progressive countries like Germany are already moving in this direction. Because if Google and other aggregators put content creators like journalists out of business – then the information on the web becomes less valuable. In fact, if content is created only by amateurs and corporate/government interests then not only does the content become less valuable, it become less reliable.
2. Make digital content the same price as print content
This already happens in places like Germany and France. But part of the problem with digital content is that device and technology makers undercut the price of other formats. So a hardcover book costs about $25, but the digital version is $9.99. A music CD may cost $16, but buying the songs individually on iTunes costs $1.29. So naturally consumers move to the cheaper formats (conveniently not factoring in the cost of the devices they need to buy in order to get the savings – typically hundreds of dollars).
The economics make no sense. For a .99 cent song iTunes collects a whopping 34 cents while the label gets 54 cents and the artist 10 cents. Unfair, I agree. But at least the label is investing in the song. They are discovering, grooming, promoting and recording the artists. iTunes does none this. They invest zero in the content. They only sell it. Ridiculous.
By standardizing pricing for the content – not the format – print (and other real-world content) has a better chance of success. It will also stabilize the demise of the print industry and give it a chance to move strategically into digital formats without losing out to technology and device manufacturers.
3. Media companies should become not-for-profit foundations
The most successful media companies today? I’d argue National Public Radio and its affiliate stations. In Boston, where I live, WBUR* and WHDH may be the healthiest news outlets in the city. The alternative newspaper, the Boston Phoenix, just crashed and burned, the largest newspaper, the Boston Globe, is up for sale by the New York Times Co., and viewership of local TV news is hovering at all time lows.
The advantage that the public radio stations have are their non-profit status. If the other outlets became foundations – with fundraising and endowments – they could focus more on the content and their audiences and less on making investors and ownership happy.
What do you think? Any ideas to share? Disagree with my thought starters? Let’s talk in the comments.
*Disclosure: I have done paid consulting work with WBUR.
PR Industry Fill Vacuum Left by Shrinking Newsrooms by Pro Publica
Pew Research’s State of the New Media 2013 report
German Proposal for Search Engines by TechCrunch