Does the News Business Die Along with Newspapers?

In the olden days, when I was a grad student in Journalism, for instance, or a night editor for UPI, the business model of the news business was fairly clear:

  1. News organizations sold advertisements.
  2. They needed news to get readers to be able to sell the ads.
  3. News needed credibility to get the readers.

So we had a news business.

We tend to forget the factor of volume, as related to credibility. Newspapers, and later, television news, had to appeal to a mass audience in order to make a living. That helped us generate a news ethic, such as objectivity — covering the news, trying to keep opinion out of it.

News was never really objective, of course. But there was the goal of objectivity. As journalists, most of us tried to be objective. And when we weren’t being objective and we knew it, we tried to make our bias clear, and label the content something different from news.

“Yellow journalism” was about sensationalizing the news. And it was always a problem, back in those olden days. Some media did it more than others.

News values changed with the growth of television news. The business of selling ads got better with more audience, and the audience liked celebrities, violence, puppies, and things that could fit into 30-second spots.

What we didn’t imagine, back then, was the splintering of the audience into different interest groups; the impact of having 600 channels on the television, and millions of websites. That changed the business entirely, and we — not just the journalists, but the world at large — haven’t figured that out yet.

Specifically, what does that mean? Well, to start with, now you can make a good business being the blatantly conservative television cable news channel, for example. You don’t have to appeal to a cross section; you appeal to a segment. And you can do the same as the blatantly liberal blog/news source.

So what does this mean for news?


  • Sara says:

    One of the sadder thing about journalism today is the apparent loss of ethics experienced by some journalists and their publishers. Even if I heartily despise the opinions of a journalist, as long as they are reporting ethically, I will listen or read on occasion.

    Finding out later that foundational data may have been fabricated, and that this happens as often as it does is so disappointing.

  • CLopez says:

    I like watching the news for its information like the weather, sports, and things that go around my city. Celebrity news is entertaining that I can’t deny, but when it comes to murders and suicides I can’t help but wonder, is that any of our business? If someone in your family was killed by someone, would you want someone you don’t know, to know? It’s like we are being instigators to other people’s lives. When I was little I never liked the news, I thought it was boring. I started getting into the news when I was in high school, about ninth grade. Whether a teacher required us to watch the news and then turn in a summary the next day about what we saw or I just plain felt like watching the news, it was always on in my house. My parents watch CNN most of the time for world news, and WOAI for local. About those 600 channels most cable or satellite services have, most are repeating. Like say, HBO and then there’s HBO in HD (High Definition), HBOW (west), and HBO Signature. Can’t they just show movies on one channel? Instead of having all these other sister channels that we have to pay for? As time goes on, the news now, I believe, will always be news. Maybe not to me, but to other people in the world. Advertisers will always be there selling their stuff and persuading people to buy their product. The good thing about it is we can choose to listen, or not listen.

  • Erin says:

    The future of news, eh? What news? The relevant news? What’s relevant these days? Everything seems to be…and then, nothing seems to be.
    How do we decipher between news… … …and news? Some things are just not news. In any way, shape, form or fashion. There are some things we just don’t need to know. But what is the working criterion for newsworthiness? So many things are reported on a day to day basis, but how much of that is necessary? You have things that are full of bias, full of irrelevance, or just plain full of foolishness.
    How do we know if something should have been reported that wasn’t? Who ultimately decides what we are told in the news? And why? How many things have been news that we have never known?
    People are so used to hearing generally the same thing every day. A good portion of that is news because there is much going on in the world today. But then you have celebrity news, for instance. They do something wrong and the people are outraged, in part because their lives have become our lives. We at times lose touch with reality when we get so wrapped up in other people. But celebrity outrage? What about moral outrage? Ethical outrage? What is worthy to be classified as outrageous?
    What is still worthy of news reports? What can we do about it?
    We can start by realizing that every detail of a celebrity’s life is not news. They are people just like us, people who make mistakes, and many times, people who need help. They’re famous…okay. Their lives are interesting…okay. That still doesn’t make every detail newsworthy. This must be practiced in the news world, to filter out the riffraff. It would also seem to do well if we could have all of these entertainment news shows pick a day of the week or something and do their stories for that day. Burnout can come quickly if you have the same type of shows, doing the same stories every single day. Why do we need all of that?
    Having options is good; that is no question. It’s good to have opinions, viewpoints and commentary. But not everything needs it. So many things in the world could use a spotlight story. Not every news source has to report the same story. But sometimes it’s a ratings war. How does that change the scope of news? How does it change the journalist?
    I personally like a good variety: internet news stories from various sources, local news, newspapers and cable news. I see a lot of dynamics and things have happened over a few years time to change my preferences.
    What has journalism become? It was once touted as a very fine, well respected craft, with notable people doing the job well. It’s not the same anymore. The integrity of many has been called into question and the quality is certainly different. We’ve got to do better. That is necessary, in order to save our news and its worthy relevance. If not, then we’re going to have a lot of confusion, and plenty of unhappiness in the news about the news. Until perhaps, there is no “news”.

  • SLydston says:

    When was it decided that news should be a business? Why are we paying to receive information? I suppose that this is an indication of the world I have grown up in. Information and facts in my opinion should be readily available to me and I should be allowed all access to it. Truth? Maybe not. how does one know what the general public will react with real, factual information? Aren’t the masses controlled through the information that they receive. Isn’t that why everything comes in sound bytes? Is it possible that this is why information that is released is repeated continuously until “we get the message.”? Fear prostrates us and our news makes us afraid. Robbers, murderers, natural disasters, Weapons of mass destruction? But in order to keep our brains from shorting out there are feel good bytes strategically placed. “Keep watching, we do have something pleasant to reveal!” This is why celebrities and puppies keep us entertained. Television news has become a terrifying media. It invokes breathtaking moments of fantastic visuals, all in the span of 30 minutes. I wish it would die. At least with the media of the Internet and the newspaper I can read the news without as much sensationalism being attached. In these forms of media I am quickly made aware that not only is the information that I am receiving information, but if an opinion is given, it can be challenged. In writing. On the Internet, if there is one report on a given circumstance, chances are that there will be four more and I can review for details. The advertisements in both of these media can be moved to the side and even avoided. Maybe one should pay for news just to avoid the advertisers?

  • C Turk says:

    Precisely because there are 600 cable TV channels and millions of web sites, the news audience can be, at once, better informed, more selective in their viewing/reading choices, and ultimately over-stimulated. Better Informed: I can, at any time of day or night, browse news sites for coverage of anything that is on my mind. As stories evolve, so does the coverage, almost immediately. I can, by selecting alternate sources of information, get decidedly different information on any one specific topic. Understanding the angle, or bias, that may effect a particular media source is a huge part of being better informed. More Selective: By understanding the biases, or at least the tendencies, of specific media outlets, I am better able to select a medium that suits my interests. I am honest enough to admit that I have my own biases. I am self-actualized enough to understand that my own biases make me fallable. Most of the time, I select a news outlet that has the same general philisophical ideas as I do. Basically I listen to people who think the way I think. It is important, though, that I understand that I am doing this. I am not trying to “think outside the box”. I have a nice box, and I am very comfortable there. Occasionally, however, I do seek alternative viewpoints. The variety available, on cable and on the internet, makes this possible. Over-stimulated: There is probably too much news coverage. Just because a person is able to find over a thousand current news articles about Hurricane Katrina (I just did it) doesn’t mean the public really has this much appetite for the news. Can there really even be news about a storm that happened four years ago? I think the proliferation of news outlets has lead to an increase in “news”. And it can be exhausting. People are now able to identify news outlets that cover the type of news they want to read or see, when they want it, and from a perspective with which the viewer is comfortable. Ultimately, this will lead to a severely fragmented viewership. People are going to find the two or three news sources that give very specific news, from a very specific perspective, and stick with them. That’s what I do. It’s too easy. That is bad news for the newspaper, and the newspaper business.

  • Karen says:

    The very definition of “news” has changed for me. Now, any time of the night or day, I can find out what is “happening now”. That, to me, is NOT news. Rather, it is just information on the state of being for someone, somewhere. So much of what we read, see, and hear has nothing to do with much of anything except one person’s activity or verbal output. I couldn’t care less about some of the “stuff” that fills the hours of the 24/7 venues. News to me, is something that is happening NOW that has a direct impact on my life, country, well-being. News is not a re-hash of the re-hash of what some talking head thinks happened. The News is not what some lame-brained whiner in California is spewing forth about the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration, the fact that they can’t get into the soup kitchen for free anymore, or that they want all property owners to be taxed at a higher rate just because. This is just “fill” that makes a lot of us cancel newspapers, change channels, and drop advertising contracts.

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  • Dan Ness says:

    You’ve packed a lot into one article – impressive!
    I think we’re beyond the historical hope that critical-thinking readers will magically keep news organizations honest and focused.
    Couldn’t it be that news organizations, like most publishers and even many media researchers, are historically behind the curve? Just today, Nielsen released a “finding” that since the majority of consumers watch hours of TV from their overstuffed sofas, there’s little change to viewing habits due to the Internet, mobile Internet, etc.
    In fact, just as you point out, readers have a lot of options about where to get their news – sensationalistic or otherwise.
    Even more importantly, the 18-24 segment has already moved well along to other options and sources.
    True change doesn’t happen overnight, and long-term changes like this one aren’t likely to reverse any time soon.