It's that time again, time for a look back at the year that was, time to try to make sense of it all. What did 2012 tell us about the state of the news business? What are the lessons to be learned? And what should we expect in the year to come?
Here are my thoughts.
Paywalls are here to stay: For years the digital media geeks said they'd never work, but once The New York Times implemented a paywall, one that did actually seem to work, the floodgates opened. Now newspapers large and small, and more importantly some of the country's largest newspaper chains, are implementing paywalls for their websites. As I've said in this space before, the era of free news on the web is slowly but surely drawing to a close.
Digital ad revenue won't save us: This was probably one of the most depressing developments of the year. Digital advertising revenue was once touted as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for news organizations facing the demise of print. But even the digital media nerds now admit that not only is digital ad revenue not increasing, it's actually heading south. Indeed, this isn't just affecting the news business; the tepid response to Facebook's IPO indicates that even the giants of the web face an uncertain future if their business model is built on digital ad revenue.
There is no business model, not yet: Not long ago pundits were saying we'd have a business model for 21st century journalism any day now. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. Paywalls are finally being implemented but there's no guarantee that they'll work everywhere, and as mentioned earlier, digital ad revenue is declining. In short, there is still no magic bullet.
More people are getting news on mobile devices: This comes from a study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, which found that half of U.S. adults now own mobile devices and a majority use them for news. So it seems clear that news organizations going forward must have a strategy for the delivery of news on tablets and smartphones. Whether all those extra eyeballs translate into additional revenue, however, is another matter entirely, given the decline in digital ad revenue mentioned earlier.
Print isn't disappearing any time soon: A few years ago media pundits were predicting that newspapers would soon go the way of eight track tapes. Not anymore. With digital ad revenue declining and no clear business model yet in sight, print remains profitable, even in 2012. Indeed, most newspaper companies still derive the lion's share of their revenue from printed display advertising. Sure, papers aren't the cash cows they once were, but as long as they still make money they're not going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
(Interestingly enough, the New Orleans Times Picayune found that circulation actually rose after the paper cut back to printing just three days a week.)
It's still tough out there: True, the newsroom bloodbaths of a few years ago are now a fading memory. But journalists are still being laid off and it seems clear that the era of downsizing is here to stay. The good news is that there are jobs out there - a quick glance at journalismjobs.com makes that clear. And as a college journalism teacher I've seen a number of my students find gainful employment in this business in recent years. But it remains tough. As David Byrne once sang, same as it ever was.