To download the complete version of "The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism," a new report on digital news economics from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, click here.
• News organizations must be vigilant about outright theft of their content, but they should also realize that most aggregators operate within the bounds of copyright law and are generating value for readers. This means news sites must do more than simply insert links (most of which are never clicked) within stories, and instead develop a thoughtful approach to understanding what topics best lend themselves to aggregation and how best to engage their readers in the effort.
• It is asking a lot to expect a legacy division—in news or ad sales—to embrace such a radically different world as digital. Retraining gets you only so far. Small, traditional news organizations may find it impossible to set up separate divisions. But bigger companies should analyze the potential in creating separate digital staffs, particularly on the business side. We did find successful companies with integrated digital and legacy departments, but others have demonstrated that they can compete more effectively by deploying committed digital-only teams that can adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.
• Journalists must be prepared for continued pressure on editorial costs. There’s an old rule of thumb in the newspaper world, that every 1,000 readers supports one newsroom staffer. That ratio isn’t going to hold in the digital world. We are likely to see a world of more, and smaller, news organizations, the most successful of which will leverage their staffs and audience by using aggregation, curation, and partnerships with audiences to provide content of genuine value.
• Mobile digital devices represent a special challenge for news companies; for every successful new product or new platform, there will be others the company tried that didn’t work. If a company can place small bets on many ventures, the probability increases that one will win.
• Any news site that adopts a pay scheme now should have very limited expectations for its success—at least on the web. In the case of a print publication, requiring digital readers to pay may help to slow circulation losses, but that is hardly a long-term solution. A pay plan merged with an ambitious strategy to improve users’ experience on mobile platforms has a much better chance to succeed.
We restate the bias we offered at the beginning of this report: We believe the public needs independent journalists who seek out facts, explain complex issues and present their work in compelling ways. We also believe that while philanthropic or government support can help, it is ultimately up to the commercial market to provide the economic basis for journalism. The industry has realized many of the losses from the digital era. It is time to start reaping some of the benefits.
To download the conclusion as a PDF, click here.