opinion | How the economics of news business changed the news itself


In unwelcome times – say, now – nostalgia can be a narcotic. However, it is reasonable to look longingly into the past when newspapers were filled with advertisements for supermarkets, grocers and car dealers.

And the news, much of it is troubling: the world is a downed place, and as journalists say, we don’t report planes landing safely. However, newspapers were more important, and functioned differently, when they were largely supported by local business ads, rather than digital subscriptions for readers, as is the case for many.

So argues Andrei Mir in “How did the media attract us?At the Manhattan Institute city ​​newspaper. The title of Meyer’s article treats “media” and “newspapers”, his main subject, as synonyms. But social media and cable television have drawn newspapers in their direction.

Meyer, authorAfter the press and the death of newspapersThe Internet, he says, is the culprit because it destroyed the newspapers’ monopoly to assemble a broad audience for advertisers of the kind of readers that advertisers value — wealthy and mature. Meyer believes that “the newspapers’ dependence on propaganda determined their attitude towards their readers.” It was a respectful attitude toward readers who want to make their own judgments and who dislike advanced political agendas in reporting.

The collapse of the newspaper advertising-based business model began with the move to the Internet of classified ads. In 2000, they gave newspapers $19.6 billion – about a third of newspaper revenue. In 2013, Google’s advertising revenue of $51 billion exceeded the total US newspaper ad revenue of $23 billion. By 2018, classifieds ad revenue was just $2.2 billion. Advertisers increasingly concluded, says Meyer, that newspaper advertising was an “expensive and ineffective way to bombard their target audience.” And advertising revenue began to lag far behind readers’ revenue.

“Even the most powerful American newspapers couldn’t accommodate advertisers: The New York Times began getting more revenue from readers from ads in 2012,” says Meyer. So, “the press is now looking for new partners”: digital subscriptions, the doubling of which can be driven by anger and fear, the fertilizer of polarization. The editors “raised the digitized, urban, educated and progressive youth to the point of political indignation”.

The business model based on newspaper advertisements, which appeals to the moderate center of society, “kept the natural liberalism of journalists in check”. The digital subscription business model “enhanced the role of progressive discourse producers” – academics and other social justice warriors – and “enhanced activism as a thinking mindset”. The new paradigm is defined by “intensity of self-expression in pursuit of response”. By early 2010, “the necessity of advertising to appeal to the average American,” says Meyer, was replaced by the pursuit of digital subscriptions from ideologically motivated readers.

The “awareness threshold” — 60 percent of a group using social media — was reached for city and college education ages 18-49 in 2011. A more conservative demographic group crossed that threshold in 2016, the year of the political earthquake that It provided the mainstream media with a commodity they could sell to their digital subscribers – Donald Trump as an “existential risk”.

Suddenly, Meyer says, contributions can be solicited as “donations to a cause” — “resistance,” and all that. “Fear came to replace news as a commodity.” This new business model “makes the media polarizing”. And the right-wing media soon learned the new game of selling the bliss of fear instead of news—the fear of being ‘replaced’ demographically, political and sexual indoctrination from kindergarten through the end of secondary education, and so on.

Meyer believes that all of this has produced “post-journalism”, through which the mainstream media do not present the news but “news-verification”, the validation of disturbing news “within certain value systems”. This business model – media as “polarizers” – results in the stratification of newspapers because, says Meyer, it produces large bonuses for only a few nationally important newspapers:

“People want to have disturbing news that is verified by a trusted notary with a greater number of followers. The public wants to pay only for the main media, such as New York times or Washington Post. …Most of the subscription money flows to a few giant companies. The new subscription model has not only led to media polarization, but has also led to media concentration.”

Meyer says that while journalism wants its image to fit in with the world, “post-journalism wants the world to fit its image.” This, he says, is “the definition of propaganda. The post-journalism period has transformed the media into publicly funded ministries of truth.” Although he paints with a wide brush and a few pastels, there is one adjective that fits his portrayal of today’s media world: worthy of publication.