“So, how’s the news biz?” a relative, let’s call him Dan, asked me at a barbeque last August. It’s a question I get a lot. But I never know what to say. I’m tempted to respond: “The news biz? Who knows?”.
As an MBA graduate and a recovering journalist, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future of “the news biz”. It’s also a question I run into as a product manager for Cision, a PR and communications technology provider.
My goal there is, in many ways, catering to the needs of journalists around the world. In practice that means doing what tech companies do best – building digital products.
But, while my career path has landed me in a product role today, I actually began considering these issues years before I entered product management.
A New Angle
Working as a reporter in a national Canadian newsroom exposed me to constant layoffs, acquisitions, rebrands and countless strategic leadership changes. Every day it seemed like we were “pivoting” to something new.
First it was social, then it was video, then it was social video. What’s worse is, none of it seemed to help. I saw my friends come and go and worked around the clock for little money. Like many other young journalists I grew more bitter as the time went on.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the context-switching throughout the day often put the quality of the journalism that my team and I produced at risk – even as it was being read by more people than ever before.
Despite these challenges, working in news also taught me that there’s always another angle. After years of wishing I could do something to give my colleagues (and myself) the time and resources to produce great stories, I decided to look at the problem from a new angle – I went back to school and completed an MBA in Innovation Management.
Between 2018-2020, I split my time between the classroom and the newsroom. On one side learning about fixed costs, value propositions and revenue streams. On the other, watching traditional media try to prop up digital businesses with old revenue streams that couldn’t compete with Google and Facebook.
Those two companies gobbled up 60% of the digital advertising revenues, leaving traditional media to fight over the rest. When legacy media couldn’t balance the books, they cut staff to lower their fixed costs. The burden shifted to ever smaller newsroom teams.
Since starting the program I have spoken to dozens of journalists and found that my experience rang true. Journalists today face an overwhelming blur of stories, contacts, and tasks each day.
In cutting staff and overloading what little employees they had left, media companies were eliminating the thing that kept readers coming back when an abundance of flashier, more digitally proficient options existed: journalists.
The future of the journalist
The PR and communications sector knows the value of journalists – arguably better than media companies themselves. Companies spend vast resources discussing how to better identify, attract, and engage key journalists on more than 1,000 topics.
In the boardrooms of marketing departments around the world, there’s no denying the jump in organic search traffic and credibility acquired by brands who secure earned media (a PR and communications industry term that distinguishes real journalist interest and content produced vs. paid ads).
With the growing understanding of just how much value journalists add to both newsrooms and brands alike, the major players in media monitoring are keen to rebuild their relationship with the news.
In its next phase of growth, Cision hopes to invite journalists into its ecosystem, which presents opportunities and data to this community that they’ve never had access to before. Now, media monitoring is, of course, a thriving industry, and there is money to be made here. Still, the value for journalists remains substantial, and can at least help to reduce the glut of spam which the PR industry inundates the media with day-in and day-out.
That’s where my team and I come in. Having spent several years as a journalist, I’ve experienced first-hand the toll that a disconnected workflow could have on my journalism. Cision, on the other hand, is one of the few companies in the world with the resources and knowledge to cater to all members of the media and content ecosystem.
With these products, we want to give storytellers the mental space to tell great stories. We’ll do this by giving them the ability to work together seamlessly by helping them connect and reducing the number of tools they use.
Of course, media companies face a plethora of challenges beyond reengaging journalists and content creators, but I believe that starting there is the best way to help media retain its value proposition and reduce its fixed costs at the same time.
After spending years believing that journalists are key to saving journalism with no way to test my hypothesis, I’m hopeful that we’ve come this far. And the next time someone asks me “how’s the news biz?” I might just say:
“We’re doing great, Dan. How’s the stock market?”
This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission. The Fix is a solutions-oriented publication focusing on the European media scene. Subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.