News magazines are facing an accelerated decline, the latest half-year numbers on advertising pages, show a very steep fall. Five of the top news magazines: Time, The Economist, The Atlantic, The Week and The New Yorker published 18% fewer ad pages in the first half of this year compared with the same period a year ago.
But some online news sites such as Reddit are thriving and there are some possible lessons for traditional news organizations.
Pew Research recently released its first survey of Reddit users and discovered that six per cent of all online adults use Reddit: 15% of males aged 18-29; 8% of males aged 30 to 49; 5% of women aged 18 to 49.
One of the chief characteristics of Reddit is it's very difficult to spam, to influence story rank. The way it manages voting, and its layers of "Redditors" means that companies can't game the system. And if they try, it could backfire very badly on them, because they'll be blacklisted completely.
Recently, Quickmeme.com was banned following revelations of vote manipulation. It was reportedly earning as much as $2 million per month from manipulating Reddit traffic. And The Atlantic has been blacklisted for attempts at promoting stories.
What if a major newspaper, say the New York Times banned PR firms, corporations, from communicating with, or meeting its journalists? No pitching allowed.
What if it stopped sending reporters to White House briefings and press conferences -- all of which are used to control media coverage by controlling access to top officials.
What if a large newspaper offered its Reddit-like editorial controls, and encouraged readers to vote up, or reject its stories? On its front page, on every page?
Reddit is showing newspapers a way to stay relevant. Especially in this world, where a deluge of media of questionable sourcing and agendas, is disengaging citizens from being informed about the things that matter in a democracy.
Reddit demonstrates that it is possible to create a media platform that values quality content, (there's plenty of silly stuff too), a community that intensely questions and engages over what it reads, and that works hard to ensure that monied special interests can't just buy their way into influence.
Reddit is improving all the time and learning lessons, such as the from the Boston Bombing, and it can pick up a few best practices from traditional media.
Traditional media can learn from Reddit best practices, too. How do news organizations ensure that they are publishing the news that matters, rather than news that matters to special interest groups?
Can a newspaper, even one with the highest journalistic ethics, be as staunchly independent of any means of manipulation or influence, as Reddit? There is no newspaper that can measure up, at least not today.
Instead of declining every year, as news magazines and newspapers are today, the news organization of the future will be a thriving, sustainable business, with dynamic and engaged readers that are ever vigilant bulwarks against the "paid speech" of special interests. Reddit offers some clues as to how to get to that future news organization.
We are engaged in a permanent war of ideas, and which ideas will govern our societies. Money buys a lot of "free speech" and it buys a lot of votes. Reddit offers a mechanism to deal with this inequality and keep democracy healthy.
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