Poynter: A 'turbulent' decade for journalism as digital news flounders

Advertising is a losing business. Google gets about 20 percent less per click every quarter. The internet's greatest challenge is a sustainable media business model.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor on

The media watchdog Poynter interviewed 15 journalists to ask: "Did we just experience the hardest decade in journalism?"

They tell heartbreaking stories with one-word descriptions for the past decade, such as "turbulent," "daunting," and "sobering." 

The newsroom survivors, interviewed by Poynter's Kristen Hare, have survived multiple rounds of layoffs -- working under conditions where you are under a constant threat of losing your job. And seeing valued colleagues leave -- amid increased workloads -- to the detriment of quality. 

This Pew Research graph demonstrates the constant rounds of layoffs over the past decade that led to a 45-percent decline in newsroom headcount:

Newspaper Newsroom Employment

Foremski's Take: 

Media disruption continues the misery for professional journalism. And there is still no stable business model in sight to support the work of professionals. 

It's interesting to see Poynter coming around to this realization when it quotes Michael Schudson, a professor at Columbia Journalism School, saying that, 10 years ago in 2008, the business model for journalism was questionable and needed to be replaced by something new.

"It's 10 years later and no one's found it and that's sobering," Schudson says.

Digital-first news organizations such as Huffington Post, Mashable, and BuzzFeed were supposed to be the darlings of the new media business models. But after initial success, those digital media models are struggling.


Declining revenues are forcing media companies into what I've called  a "Heinz 57" media business model. It means having to add many revenue streams -- not just advertising.

For example, here is Keith Grossman, chief revenue officer for Bloomberg on the AdAge AdLib podcast talking about Bloomberg moving into the media consultancy business,  a Twitter video partnership, and creating "tremendous numbers of podcasts." 

Grossman's goal is:"To protect the core media assets… and then invent new revenue streams for us to move forward in."

Also: The emerging "Heinz 57" new media business model


Conferences, native advertising, special editorial sections, and special membership clubs are ways to add new revenue streams. And these side businesses might help for a while, but there is no guarantee that these will remain stable or profitable. 

And if any of the Heinz 57 side streams become highly profitable, then the news organization is in danger of being sold off. 

This is exactly what happened at Reed-Elsevier, the UK/Dutch media giant. It wisely invested in many digital information businesses as the internet grew in reach and abilities.  Over the past decade, it sold off nearly all of its hundreds of media titles, which included dozens of US and European newspapers, and high-profile magazines such as Variety and New Scientist.  

It changed its name to RELX Group and now makes money mostly off of online data services for financial and legal industries. It still retains scientific research publications and its giant trade exhibitions business, but for how long?

Must read


Google makes about 20 percent less revenue per click every quarter. It can survive by finding more places to place ads. But that's not possible for news media organizations. Without a sustainable business model the problems of fake news and news manipulation will continue to worsen. Not to mention the continuing problem of trust.

Billions of dollars in brand value will be lost if trust in media is lost. Consumers will take longer to buy. Marketing and advertising will be trusted even less. Without trusted media -- nefarious organizations will proliferate and prosper. 

A sustainable business model for news media organizations is of the utmost urgency. How do we get it? 

It's one of the toughest problems of the Internet age -- a Gordian knot that is choking the world, in my honest opinion.

Hardware is hard: The tech products that fooled or failed us

Related articles:

Editorial standards