Idle thoughts on the future of journalism

There’s a local story here in Seattle with tremendous import on the future of journalism. Publicola, a local news blog that was the first online-only site to be credentialed to cover the Washington State Legislature, will be shutting down with at least two contributors moving to another blog.

Because other similar blogs around here seem to be doing fine and Publicola was probably more popular than any of them, I felt that its failure suggested that they didn’t have a clue how to make money on the Internet. Then I read this comment that made me rethink it:

I always wondered how it was supposed to make money. To pay two full-time reporters you need at least, say $200 a day. To get to that, you may need a full-time ad salesperson which raises the requirement even further. That’s a lot of internet ads and a ton of traffic. They probably got just enough traffic to be relevant but not enough to make a living.

The other option would seem to be an NPR model, which they did not try, but would definitely require being a 501c3, which would limit what you could do politically (no endorsements, for example).

Is this the future of journalism? Are full-time reporters with full credentials and access no longer viable except at large scales? Will journalism become split between amateur “citizen journalists” with a tendency towards the “hyper-local” and the occasional opinion, and full-time reporters working for monolithic media organizations, either national or international outfits or one of only a handful of such large outfits in town, almost certainly a holdover from the old media, with little room for anything in the middle?

It’s possible Publicola tried to do too much too soon and couldn’t reach viability fast enough. Or it’s possible that there’s a blind spot in the current Internet viability model, one that, without additional revenue streams, could prove corrosive to the health of journalism, especially local-scale journalism, in the long run.

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