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Breaking news: Times are changing

2 Jul 2024

I was having a think the other day, about what I'd be doing right now if I wasn't already crazy-busy with projects and things that need to be done.

And yes, reviving the forums on this site is one of those things on my list.

What got me thinking was the seeming utter lack of ability for news organisations to make a buck these days. Just read a few pages on for instance and you'll find that you get nagged to "donate" to support their self-stated worthiness. Go to the NZ Herald and you'll be constantly invited to sign up to a subscription that gives access to all those "premium" stories hidden behind the paywall.

Then, as if to really make the point about how little money there is to be made using the traditional news-reporting model, The Associated Press did something that surprised me.

The Associated Press (AP) is recognised as one of the big names in the news industry.

For as long as I can remember, AP and Reuters have set the gold standard for international news reporting.

It therefore came as a huge surprised to see that the AP is admitting that its revenues have tanked. In fact, they've tanked so much that in the USA The AP is setting up a sister organization seeking grants to support local and state news.

So what has caused the implosion of what was once a very profitable industry?

I think it's pretty easy to work out that it's simply the laws of supply and demand being demonstrated.

"Back in the day", people had very few options and sources for their news. There was the daily newspaper, radio bulletins and whatever TV stations decided to broadcast. That was it.

This meant that news was *valuable* and because of that value, news organisations could charge a good price for their product. This resulted in healthy profits and significant reinvestment in those news organisations to ensure they weren't swayed by external commercial pressures.

Today however, things are different... much different.

Thanks to the internet and ubiquitous connectivity, news has become a low-value commodity -- it's available from almost everywhere, all the time.

There's no need to wait for the evening paper to be delivered or the next bulletin to be broadcast on TV or the radio -- you just pick up your phone or fire up your computer and the news is there, on demand.

We also have no need to rely on "official" news sources, thanks to social media.

Most people find out about local stories through social media, long before they're reported by official news sources. If there's a car crash or whatever, there are often plenty of eye-witness reports and images shared via Facebook, X or whatever your social media of choice happens to be.

This all puts the traditional news services at a huge disadvantage. The key component of the word "news" is NEW. People just aren't interested in the mainstream media report of an event when they've already been fully informed by those who were on the spot with their phones and a social media account.

Does this mean that the news industry is going to wither and die -- if it hasn't already?

Unfortunately, unless some of the cloth-heads running these news agencies start thinking outside the box the answer is a very real "probably".

What these organisations have to realise is that their real customers have traditionally been advertisers and, thanks again to the internet, those customers now mave a plethora of other options.

News really only had value because it attracted eyeballs and ears. While people were reading, watching or listening to news, advertisers' messages (ads) could be added to the stream of information -- that's how it worked. Today however, things are much different.

Those advertisers can put their messages on a billion and one different webpages, none of which contain news. It's even cheap and simple for advertisers to simply put their own websites up and, for a small monthly fee, post their message for the entire world to see. Who needs to staple those ads to a news story any more?

What news organisations need to do is come up with new ways of extracting value from the product (news) that they make -- because ads aren't going to pay the bills any more. Also, unless you have a very powerful position in a niche market, subscriptions are also never going to keep the lights on because people have so many other free sources of this information.

As usual, I have a few ideas of my own but... gosh darn it... I've just run out of room in today's column :-)

Stay tuned, more to come a little later on as I present my ideas for preventing news organisations from becoming little more than professional beggars.

Carpe Diem folks!

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