There’s More Than One Way To Monetize Journalism

Charles Pelton, the former GM of Conferences and Events at the Washington Post, wrote a piece for PaidContent this week raising opportunities for journalists to create new revenue streams beyond traditional advertising.  His message is important, and gives hope to journalists by reframing our opportunity to redefine the publishing industry.Number of jobs in newspaper sector (Silicon Alley Insider)

Journalists are understandably fearful of the shakiness of the industry right now:  15,000 employees in the newspaper sector lost their jobs last year, and Silicon Alley Insider just published this dramatic chart of the day showing the steep cliff we are on.

But while Pelton mourns the loss of jobs, he also offers solutions, and they align with where the industry needs to head:

The point is to take the journalist’s knowledge, and package and present analysis in new, interesting and useful ways for paying audiences. In this case, there’s a subset of readers (IT vendors, for instance) who would pay a premium for insight about technology use by government….  Could a film critic or arts editor moderate a readers’ discussion—live or virtual, about a new movie—something actually sponsored by AMC Theaters? You bet!

Indeed, product development should be part of a journalist’s job. Journalists should be working side by side with their business-side colleagues to create and monetize products—and should be evaluated, in part, on their ability to do just that.

These are great examples.  Underneath them, they illustrate three things that need to happen for the media world to rise again to a new, profitable model:

  • Beyond just content. To draw audiences and create new revenues, publishers need to go beyond just creating traditional content.  The idea of creating events, research insights, forums, and more is a great way to get outside the box.
  • Role. Instead of looking at themselves as a cost center — just a journalist on the payroll — to build a new model, we need everyone to align themselves with the goals of financial success — which is vital to long-term success of both the art and the commerce of journalism.
  • Premium experiences. What is notable about these vehicles are that they create exclusive, premium experiences for their audiences — instead of just more words in the same old vehicles.  Those premium experiences can drive premium revenues.

These are not new themes.   Top journalists like Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg have been incredibly successful extending their skills and brands from journalism to a broader role in industry, running the Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital conference since 2003.   Another role model, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has leveraged his journalism role into multiple books that have had a huge commercial impact.  These journalists demonstrate that it can be done – while preserving top-tier journalistic integrity.

It’s not a brand new idea, but what we need now is to see it become a widespread idea.  It’s time for those who write to go beyond the creation of words to the creation of results.