Newspapers Are Dead; Long Live Journalism

This is Part 3 in a series on the future of news and newspapers. Previously:

  • Part 1: FiveThirtyEight and the End of Average link
  • Part 2: The Stages of Newspapers’ Decline link

Newspapers are held up as an irreplaceable tentpole of a free society, especially by the journalists who work at them, but the people who actually started our most august institutions had a rather more pragmatic view: they saw a great opportunity to make money.

Consider the New York Times, widely considered one of if not the best newspaper in the world. According to the History of the New York Times:

One day early in 1851, Jones and Raymond [the founders of the Times] were walking across the Hudson on the ice when Jones observed that he had heard that The Tribune had made a profit of $60,000 — in those days an enormous sum — in the past year. This renewed Raymond’s enthusiasm, and before they reached the other shore he had obtained Jones’s promise to join him, if the re-demption bill passed, in the establishment of a new daily in New York. The bill did pass. Jones closed up his business, and he and his business associate, E. B. Wesley, prepared to put their money, with Raymond’s experience, into the new venture.

And, for 150 years afterwards, newspapers were fantastic businesses, not just for Jones and Raymond. Understanding why, though, explains why the modern newspaper, with a few possible exceptions (such as – hopefully – the Times), is doomed.

Ethical Wall = Value Wall

Journalists pride themselves on an ethical wall1 between the editorial and business sides of the newspaper. This, in theory, allows the journalist to pursue the “truth”, without concern for undue influence. As far as I know, this is nearly universally accepted as a good thing. It’s also a big red flag, at least if you are someone like me who is interested in how businesses are built.

The problem with this arrangement is a familiar one: the end user is the product, not the customer, no different than advertising-based businesses on the web, such as Google or Facebook. While this sort of division usually inspires concern that the quality of the end-user product will suffer, the opposite is also the case: it doesn’t matter how good the end-user product is if the money-making side of the business isn’t in good shape. This is exactly what is wrong with newspapers, and why, to journalists especially, the demise of newspapers feels like such an intractable problem: the quality of their work is mostly irrelevant to the financial well-being of their employer.

How the Internet has Changed Advertising

In There Are Two Twitters; Only One is Worth Investing In, I explained how the Internet has changed advertising (I’m going to extensively quote from that article; if you’ve read it, you can skip the quote):

Previously, advertising channels like newspapers or television channels were the only means to a captive audience. For example, if you wanted to reach those living in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune or Sun Times were your primary options. This proved highly lucrative for those in the middle; their job was to create compelling content to ensure customers bought their product, which was in turn laden with advertising, from whence they made most of their money.

The old advertising model involved a captive audience; a middle-man needed only to deliver content

The old advertising model involved a captive audience; a middle-man needed only to deliver content

The Internet has changed this in a few fundamental ways:

  • On the Internet, consumers are no longer captive. I have an effectively infinite array of choices for news, entertainment, etc., meaning the content that attracts me must truly stand out
  • The infinite array of content = an infinite amount of advertising inventory, destroying its worth
  • The nature of Internet advertising makes it possible to gather much richer data about consumers than was ever possible offline
On the Internet, those in the middle have to deliver superior content and also collect superior targeting information

On the Internet, those in the middle have to deliver superior content and also collect superior targeting information

This has made life in the middle much more difficult, particularly for old-school advertising middlemen like newspapers. Commanding top rates depends not only on capturing consumers versus infinitely more competitors, but also knowing more about those consumers than anyone else. Targeting information is the new scarcity in advertising. It is the only way to sustainably increase average revenue per user.

Let me be more blunt than I was in the original article: life is not “more difficult” for traditional newspapers; it’s unsustainable. They don’t have the best content, it’s not personalized, and they really don’t know anything about most of their readers.

“But [Insert Newspaper Name Here] has great journalists! They’ve won Pulitzer Prizes! And our democracy needs newspapers!” Unfortunately, advertisers don’t, and newspapers are paying the price for having long ago divorced the cost of their content from the value readers place upon it. To put it another way, it’s not that “the Internet has unbundled advertising from content creation,” it’s that advertisers (rightly) don’t give a damn about journalistic ideals. It is incredibly tiring to hear newspaper defenders talk as if advertising dollars are their god-given right, and that Google and Facebook are somehow stealing from them, when in reality Google and Facebook are winning in the fairest way possible: providing better value for the advertiser’s dollar.

The Internet Upside

Throughout this series, I’ve been very careful about separating the “news” from “newspapers.” The Internet has killed the latter, but is the impetus behind a new golden age for the former. Crucially, that golden age is not only for readers, but writers, too. The Internet provide three huge advantages over newspapers:

  • Distribution is, for all intents and purposes, free. WordPress, which powers most blogs (including at many newspapers) is open source,2 and hosting is extremely cheap. With minimal effort and with no support your writing can be published.
  • The addressable market – everyone with an Internet connection who can read the writer’s language – is multiple orders of magnitude larger than that of any traditional newspaper
  • The potential reach of any given post is equal to the addressable market, thanks to social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and even email

Remember how the New York Times was started as a means of making money? After the first year the paper had a circulation of 26,000 in a city of over half a million, but had incurred up-front capital costs of $50,000, and first-year expenses of $78,000 (In 1851 dollars; the modern equivalent would be $1.4 million and $2.2 million respectively). Compare that to this blog (which, by happy coincidence, turns one year old tomorrow, making this comparison timely): FiveThirtyEight and the End of Average, the first article in this series, has been read by over 30,000 people; meanwhile, I’ve spent less than $2,000. More readers, way less money.

You may consider the comparison unfair – an entire newsroom putting out a daily edition as compared to a solo blogger posting one article – but the unfairness is the point. No one shared my article because it was from Stratechery, but then again, no one shares an article today just because it’s from the New York Times; all that matters is the individual article and its worth to the reader and potential sharer. As a writer, this is amazing. When it comes to reader attention, I am competing on an equal footing with The New York Freaking Times! Unfortunately for The New York Times, when it comes to making money they’re competing with Google and Facebook. Most distressingly, though, when it comes to costs, they’re competing with the last 150 years. Everything from printing presses to sales and marketing is deadweight if advertising is not a sustainable model.

Business Models of the Future

The reason why I find business models so fascinating is because your business model is your destiny; newspapers made their bed with advertisers, and when advertisers left for a better product, the newspaper was doomed. To change destiny, journalists need to fundamentally rethink their business:

  • More and more journalism will be small endeavors, often with only a single writer. The writer will have a narrow focus and be an expert in the field they cover. Distribution will be free (a website), and most marketing will be done through social channels. The main cost will be the writer’s salary.
  • Monetization will come from dedicated readers around the world through a freemium model; primary content will be free, with increased access to further discussions,3 additional writing, data, the author, etc. available for-pay.
  • A small number of dedicated news organizations focused on hard news (including the “Baghdad bureau”) will survive after a difficult transition to a business model primarily focused on subscriptions, with premium advertising4 as a secondary line of revenue. This is the opposite of the traditional model, where advertising is the primary source of revenue, with subscriptions secondary.

This transition will be a painful one: the number of traditional journalists and newspapers will decrease dramatically. Moreover, those that succeed will need to have a much expanded skillset from journalists of yore, including basic website management, self-promotion, business skills, speaking ability, etc. (teaching these skills is an important opportunity for journalism schools). What is sure to be most frightening – or exciting, depending on your outlook – is that the market will, for the first time in the history of news, be the ultimate arbiter of what writers are worthwhile.

I know that last sentence sent chills down the spine of many a journalist and many a reader; you believe that people only care about the popcorn, not the movie. That no one will cover the local school board, or the Crimea. If you’re nodding your head, then I have a challenge for both of you:

  • For the journalist, do you believe that your work is valuable? Then start a blog, and start experimenting with business models. Go door-to-door or start a kickstarter. If you think it’s hopeless, then get out now. There will be a few big winners, but it won’t be you.
  • For the reader, how often do you visit the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal? Do you pay? Do you love tech? Well, then, have you even considered trying out The Information? It’s exceedingly easy to sit on the sidelines laughing at journalists freaking out about the end of the newspaper, but if you always go for free you will, eventually, get exactly what you pay for.

I don’t think the future of news is an easy problem; my solution, such that it is, entails the death of journalism as we know it (i.e. employed by newspapers). But that’s exactly how new business models are born: a thousand new flowers in the burnt-out forest of what no longer works.

  1. This is commonly called a Chinese Wall, but the term strikes me as an unfortunate one. Its origins are unclear
  2. Disclosure: I work for Automattic, which contributes to WordPress and offers WordPress hosting at
  3. Why are comments free?
  4. These news organizations will be able to charge a significantly higher rate because most of their readers are paid customers; they are worth more

248 thoughts on “Newspapers Are Dead; Long Live Journalism


  2. Pingback: original air jordan 11s

  3. Pingback: air jordan 13 for sale

  4. Pingback: air jordan 12 retro

  5. Pingback: air jordan 5 oregon ducks

  6. Pingback: air jordan 11 for sale foot locker

  7. Pingback: air jordan 13 for sale buy jordan 13 now

  8. Pingback: air jordan 11s for sale

  9. Pingback: air jordan 5 retro oreo

  10. Pingback: air jordan 29

  11. Pingback: air jordan 5

  12. Pingback: Cincuenta enlaces para ponerte al día de lo que pasa en el mundo de los medios de comunicación |

  13. Pingback: Episode 005: The World Has Changed | Exponent

  14. Pingback: Podcast: Exponent 005 - The World has Changed | stratechery by Ben Thompson

  15. Pingback: URL

  16. Pingback: blackhatlinks

  17. Pingback: Sucesos del día

  18. Pingback: He pensado ser periodista | Sucesos del día

  19. Pingback: mynt products

  20. Pingback: Chanute

  21. Pingback: Suara Bakrie

  22. Pingback: Where will the storytellers go? | Green Rocket News

  23. Pingback: idea Apps

  24. Pingback: hefalimp cardijon

  25. Pingback:

  26. Pingback: generique cialis france

  27. Pingback: quick fix for premature ejaculation

  28. Pingback: online slots

  29. Pingback: How Technology is Changing the World (P&G Edition) | stratechery by Ben Thompson

  30. Pingback: cialis moins chere

  31. Pingback: read this,

  32. Pingback: download music

  33. Pingback: acheter du cialis france

  34. Pingback: a fantastic read

  35. Pingback: cialis suisse vente

  36. Pingback: macarons amsterdam kopen

  37. Pingback: achat cialis 20 mg

  38. Pingback: no credit check payday loans

  39. Pingback: cialis cheap

  40. Pingback: free instagram followers june 2013

  41. Pingback: vine followers

  42. Pingback: bitcoin casino

  43. Pingback: mmpr licensed producers mmpr licensed producers

  44. Pingback: buy youtube likes

  45. Pingback: arganolie discount

  46. Pingback: lawyer directory

  47. Pingback: xlovecam generateur de code gratuit

  48. Pingback: acheter cialis en europe

  49. Pingback: bed frames

  50. Pingback: Site

  51. Pingback: Begum Law Group

  52. Pingback: New Songs 2014

  53. Pingback: Optimax

  54. Pingback: Ultralase Reviews

  55. Pingback: Driving School Paignton

  56. Pingback: seo training

  57. Pingback: Orlando vacation rentals near disney

  58. Pingback: healthy snacks

  59. Pingback: nature's comfort reviews

  60. Pingback: testinate 250

  61. Pingback: ροζ γραμμές

  62. Pingback: Shaahin

  63. Pingback: Penis enlargement

  64. Pingback: Penis enlargement

  65. Pingback: cupboards

  66. Pingback: cialis diabete

  67. Pingback: Bad real-estate

  68. Pingback: hills home market reviews

  69. Pingback: porn

  70. Pingback: Mulheres Infieis

  71. Pingback: Flight Tickets

  72. Pingback: Charles Floate

  73. Pingback: Richard McArthur Belfair

  74. Pingback: camilo concha

  75. Pingback: document management

  76. Pingback: Richard McArthur Washington

  77. Pingback: Richard McArthur Realtor

  78. Pingback: Richard McArthur Belfair

  79. Pingback: camilo concha

  80. Pingback: premature ejaulation

  81. Pingback: ford raptor parts

  82. Pingback: buy ayahuasca

  83. Pingback: Viagra


  85. Pingback: amazing porn site

  86. Pingback: cialis su internet

  87. Pingback: buy facebook likes

  88. Pingback: Penis enlargement

  89. Pingback: recommended

  90. Pingback: web

  91. Pingback: acheter du cialis en europe

  92. Pingback: Viagra

  93. Pingback: edward maldonado

  94. Pingback: electric bike

  95. Pingback: Viagra

  96. Pingback: salsa en malaga

  97. Pingback: Madden 15 glitches

  98. Pingback: love cupid online dating

  99. Pingback: love online games dating

  100. Pingback: insane value

  101. Pingback: emily bronte facts

  102. Pingback: dbz online games

  103. Pingback: بفركس نصب

  104. Pingback: بفركس شركة

  105. Pingback: viagra

  106. Pingback: Join Empower Network

  107. Pingback: metatron

  108. Pingback: Ceiling Fan Installation

  109. Pingback: Faucet Repair

  110. Pingback: Drywall Finishing

  111. Pingback: Knockdown Texture

  112. Pingback: look what i found

  113. Pingback: Popcorn Ceiling Removal

  114. Pingback: emilio ferrari

  115. Pingback: Illinois Process Servers

  116. Pingback: wordpress theme design company

  117. Pingback: meal replacement shake

  118. Pingback: Rehab

  119. Pingback: bakersfield cpr

  120. Pingback: Chicago Locksmith

  121. Pingback: cool android ar apps

  122. Pingback: fallen angel

  123. Pingback: en iyi logo tasarimi

  124. Pingback: Flat Fee MLS Realtor IL

  125. Pingback: singapore

  126. Pingback: renta de autos en cancun

  127. Pingback: Restore My Vision Today Review

  128. Pingback: Northern Virginia dryer vent cleaning

  129. Pingback: mortgage renewal

  130. Pingback: diagnostic immobilier pays basque

  131. Pingback: werbung

  132. Pingback: sports

  133. Pingback: Katy Landscaping

  134. Pingback: los angeles traffic ticket lawyer

  135. Pingback: Classified websites

  136. Pingback: Ann Arbor caregiver

  137. Pingback: houten zonnebril

  138. Pingback: Malian Foundation

  139. Pingback: irvine auto repair

  140. Pingback: Honey Bee Removal Kingwood Texas

  141. Pingback: acheter cialis forum

  142. Pingback: vorzeitiger samenerguss

  143. Pingback: Mayweather vs Maidana 2

  144. Pingback: venture capital vc funding consultant

  145. Pingback: physics chemistry biology tutor

  146. Pingback: Criminal Lawyer

  147. Pingback: new mazda dealers

  148. Pingback: Criminal Lawyer

  149. Pingback: Tambah Instagram Follower

  150. Pingback: viagra

  151. Pingback: Like Instagram Murah

  152. Pingback: One little mortgage website that could save you hundreds!

  153. Pingback:

  154. Pingback: legal highs uk

  155. Pingback: 13 of the hottest mortgage programs out there!

  156. Pingback: health insurance

  157. Pingback:

  158. Pingback: Buy Viagra

  159. Pingback: my site

  160. Pingback: advertise property for sale

  161. Pingback: eye check

  162. Pingback: Illinois Process Server

  163. Pingback: One little mortgage website that could save you hundreds!

  164. Pingback: games app

  165. Pingback: Buy Viagra

  166. Pingback: apartamentos lisboa

  167. Pingback: Payday loans

  168. Pingback: Tallahassee FL For Sale By Owner

  169. Pingback: Tanja Portolese

  170. Pingback: Teresia Osswald

  171. Pingback: canoe

  172. Pingback: viagra

  173. Pingback: trading systems that work

  174. Pingback: address book empty outlook

  175. Pingback: servicios web nicaragua

  176. Pingback: face mud mask

  177. Pingback: horoscope

  178. Pingback: presbicia que es y como se corrige

  179. Pingback: maxxim metal wheels for sale

  180. Pingback: pirater un compte facebook

  181. Pingback: buy gold

  182. Pingback: gordas que dan risa

  183. Pingback:

  184. Pingback: great total body workouts

  185. Pingback: best young adult fantasy novels

  186. Pingback: learn crochet

  187. Pingback: difference between online media and print media

  188. Pingback: personal services

  189. Pingback: pirater un compte facebook

  190. Pingback: hammer strength equipment

  191. Pingback: bitcoin casino

  192. Pingback: vehicle

  193. Pingback: drunk driving book

  194. Pingback: Learn How To Make Cash With Instagram

  195. Pingback: SwaddleMe kapalot

  196. Pingback: jam casio

  197. Pingback: iphone6

  198. Pingback: promovare online

  199. Pingback: anal

  200. Pingback: how twitter makes money

  201. Pingback: activation key for eset nod32 antivirus 7

  202. Pingback: Make Money Fast

  203. Pingback: Buy Facebook Fans

  204. Pingback: college debt planning

  205. Pingback: Cloud Computing Services

  206. Pingback: Oakland County college planner

  207. Pingback: sausage and rice casserole

  208. Pingback: pest control houston review

  209. Pingback: bee wild pest control

  210. Pingback: appliance repair in Yonkers NY

  211. Pingback: appliance repair Yonkers

  212. Pingback: Pinhole Gum Surgery

  213. Pingback: Manhattan appliance repair

  214. Pingback: Whatsapp Status

  215. Pingback: free trial of garcinia cambogia

  216. Pingback: new blog site

  217. Pingback: deals

  218. Pingback: Entertainment News

  219. Pingback: Healthcare Supplement

  220. Pingback: juicy couture tracksuit online

  221. Pingback: mac os x file recovery

  222. Pingback: Cialis

  223. Pingback: easeus data recovery

  224. Pingback: penis

  225. Pingback: europe business directory

  226. Pingback: discover scuba diving

  227. Pingback: Guitar Licks You’ll Love - “Stand By Me” on Guitar

  228. Pingback: achat cialis original

  229. Pingback: appliance repair Glendale

  230. Pingback: Surprise appliance repair

  231. Pingback: Free Download Register Software's

  232. Pingback: easeus data recovery wizard

  233. Pingback: online escorts

  234. Pingback: House eviction

  235. Pingback: errands

  236. Pingback: cash for gold

  237. Pingback: Carefree appliance repair

  238. Pingback: elplp49 replacement projector lamp bulb

  239. Pingback: sex online

  240. Pingback: Baltasar sanchez haz

  241. Pingback: viagra online

  242. Pingback: online slots real money

  243. Pingback: click here

  244. Pingback: buy valium

  245. Pingback: buy adipex online

  246. Pingback: click here

  247. Pingback: click here

  248. Pingback: Baltasar sanchez haz

Join the Conversation