The deadly spiral troubles old media. Lower cost inputs result in lower quality outputs. Content degradation means fewer readers, which means less advertising revenue, which demands further cost cutting. For large media empires, the future is not bright.
In its 2011 Annual Report, Postmedia stated,
“We continued to experience growth in digital revenue, primarily in online advertising, and expect to see continued growth in fiscal 2012. We believe digital revenue represents a future growth opportunity for the Company and we continue to focus on many new initiatives in this area.”
Trouble is, those “forward-looking statements” were wrong. Measured in constant dollars, 2014’s monthly digital revenues are lower than in 2011. The company is not giving up the search for Internet dollars; it is accelerated. However, risks abound for a company that already suffers in credibility ratings.
According to Forbes Magazine, Sponsored content is the holy grail of digital publishing. However, it has consequences:
“People feel deceived when they realize an article or video is sponsored by a brand, and believe it hurts the digital publisher’s credibility, according to a study.
“In recent years, a debate has raged on among publishing and advertising industry insiders over ‘sponsored content’ — more recently called ‘native advertising’ and once known as ‘advertorial’ — the sort of advertising that looks very much like editorial content but is, in fact, directly paid for by an advertiser…”
How should readers react when business pages are presented by an industry lobby like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers? I don’t care to pay a newspaper that presents promotional pieces of advertisers as news nor do I wish to pay a newspaper that hesitates to publish stories that affect reputations of its sponsors.
If the Vancouver Sun’s business pages are presented by the fossil fuel industry, readers are not likely to read that shale gas is “The dotcom bubble of our times.” Nor are they likely to read that British Columbia has earned almost nothing from natural gas royalties in recent years.
I’ve complained about media reporters and commentators pocketing cash from organizations affected by their coverage of issues. If that is now a prime corporate strategy of their employers, we must conclude that rules have changed. News should now be defined as:
“Information about events and situations that advertisers and editors believe to be noteworthy and helpful, not harmful, to their private economic interests.”
UPDATE (The above was first published May 5, 2014)
Long time journalist Paul Willcocks writes about these issues. He knows whereof he speaks, having benefit of experience as reporter, opinion columnist and editor. If you don’t regularly read Paul’s blog or his Tweets, you should be doing so.
The Center for Journalism Ethics, University of Wisconsin, is another voice for integrity. Breaking Down the Wall discusses the lines separating news and commerce in the pro-media. It makes clear that the good old days are not necessarily good old days. Ethical journalism has been dragged along a parabolic curve and today’s downward slope returns us to what existed in major news sources during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The evidence of difficulty is clear, even if pompous practitioners of the art think they can pretend that green is red and up is down. It is the greedy hypocrisy that I find most disturbing.
In comments on this article, there is a discussion about the partisan status of Canadian Taxpayers Federation BC Director Jordan Bateman. After a reader stated that Bateman was president of the Langley BC Liberal riding association, I searched online for confirmation or contradiction and was surprised to find at http://www.jordanbateman.com/about-jordan.php
Bateman said in a Twitter message that the page on his personal website was outdated, adding, “I haven’t been a Liberal for 3 yrs, or prez for 4.”
The subject webpage is now removed. I understand Jordan’s wish to not be identified as a Liberal. I was one too, a few decades ago, and I wouldn’t want anyone associating my name with them either.