Journalists need to brush up on business knowledge, report says
Freelancers have perhaps always known more about the business of journalism than their permanently employed counterparts. But now, at least according to an extensive report from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, all journalists need to educate themselves about where their pay cheques are coming from.
This story about the report in the New York Times provides a useful summary of the report. A good portion of the report’s recommendations pertain to the people who run online news sites and have access to page-view and ad-click data. Finding ways to optimize the design and content of a news site to encourage reader interaction and to increase the value of ads on the site — for both readers and advertisers — is a must, according to the report’s authors. A significant factor that’s keeping the value of online ads low is that they don’t engage readers the same way print ads do. The report gives the example of full-page, visually captivating ads in glossy magazines like Vanity Fair, which some readers will spend as much time with as a page of editorial content. Small ads on the sidebar of a website are much less prominent, and therefore more likely to be overlooked.
The report notes that journalism schools are increasingly likely to offer courses on the economics of journalism. It also recommends that journalists understand “how advertisers now reach their customers via social media, new-media ads and search engine optimization.” The latter of those items is particularly relevant to freelancers, since SEO can help a site attract readers — and ad dollars, as a result — but can also increasing exposure of a writer’s work.
But what can freelancers who contribute to online news sites glean from these findings? How can they tailor their content to make it more appealing to advertisers? Perhaps a better questions is: should they? Learning about the economics of online journalism is doubtlessly useful, but it is how that knowledge translates into practice that might have some worrying that it might affect what gets covered and how.
What do you think? With journalism schools now requiring students to take courses on the economics and business of journalism, is there a risk that the next generation of journalists will become too focused on how their work will make money and not enough on how it serves their readers, communities, and the foundational principles of the profession?