The business of journalism

I think the relationship between the business and editorial sides of journalism is a weird one, as it should be to put citizens first. I like how the authors put it: “It is a triangle, with the news provider forming one line, the public another, and those trying to reach the public to sell them goods and services the third. In this triangle, the public is dominant — they form the longer line of the triangle — even though the revenue they provide is usually less than that provided by advertisers.”

If the public thinks logically about the news business — or any type of business, really — they must know that media companies have to make a profit. Many people also don’t want to pay for this type of information service, so that leaves advertisements. I think people should understand the presence of advertisements, as long as it is evident something is an advertisement to an average, reasonable person. (Yes, this includes native advertisements. I think Buzzfeed does a decent job of these.)

What I think is deceiving, and what can lead to distrust and less brand credibility, is when this isn’t explicitly conveyed to anyone. One summer, I worked at a newspaper that had a whole lot of special sections. I found out toward the end of the summer that it was likely no coincidence that all of the stories in the bimonthly Universities section were pretty positive; I don’t remember the exact situation, but the buzz among the editors was that the newspaper was receiving money from someone with particular interests to make that section happen. I remember being incredibly disappointed in a company that I trusted — a company that, on the first day of intern training, emphasized its commitment to the community — doing something like that.

I think that creating quality journalism can be combined with building relationships, among other factors, and serving the community to create brand loyalty. For example, I really admire the efforts that Anika Anand and her engagement team at Chalkbeat are doing to better their journalism and create customer loyalty. They use a tool called MORI to measure and improve the impact of their reporting, they put their journalism in the hands (or electronic communities) of stakeholders in the issue, and they regularly attend school board meetings and other events to ask what the public wants to know and what Chalkbeat can do better. Chalkbeat’s been growing steadily, and I think this is in part because of the engagement team’s business-like efforts.

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