March 23rd, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

benjamin day's new york sun, one of the original 19th century 'penny press' papers; via ricardoread.wordpress.com

Even before the online news “revolution” (that looks more and more like “creative destruction” without the “creative” part), newspapers and TV/radio stations, and especially local slick magazines and “alt” weeklies, had begun to ignore whole swaths of their communities, all in the name of the dreaded “upscale demographics.”

That means wanting only wealthy (or at least really affluent) people in your audience, the audience you sell to advertisers. (The original Seattle Weekly was particularly notorious at this. Its rate cards proclaimed, “Who are the Weekly’s readers? In a word, rich.”)

The age of dot-com media has only exacerbated this trend. AOL’s “Patch” sites deliberately only cover wealthy communities. The West Seattle Blog is apparently pulling in a lot more ad revenue than the Rainier Valley Post.

And the “future of news” bloggers, who demand that all news orgs conform to their formula of unfettered-access, ad- and pageview-dependent standard websites, sometimes seem to believe the entire nation is made up of people exactly like them—18-34-year-old, college-educated white males, with home broadband, smartphones, and techie jobs that let them browse the web throughout the day.

And now a Pew Research study claims “fewer than half of Americans who make under $75K a year go online for news.” If the online realm, as we now know it, becomes the only place to get written short-form journalism, a lot of Americans are going to be informationally shut out.

That last stat came from the page for “A Penny Press for the Digital Age.” That was a panel discussion at the digital media section of the SXSW music/media convention last week. You can hear it here.

Its aim: to explore “how low-income and working-class people–the majority of Americans–can be included in the future of online news.”

(Hint: Most of the solutions offered by the panelists involve non-profit, cooperative, and/or volunteer operations.)

It’s just one of more than a dozen “future of news” panels at SXSW you can hear at this link. They’re all full of “cutting edge” new-media concepts.

Indeed, the new-media world these days has more cutting edges than a blister pack of Bic razors (most of which will prove just as enduring).

Elsewhere in journalistic doom-n’-gloom land, Eric Alterman at HuffPost has collected a whole boatload of depressing industry statistics. Perhaps the most depressing of them all:

Newspaper revenue fell to its lowest level since 1984, although adjusted for inflation the income is actually worth half of what papers earned back then.

Many of these stats come from media-biz blogger Alan Mutter. Mutter also notes that retailers are putting up more “advertorial” content—and even ads for other stores—on their own sites (which would help negate the need for these stores to advertise in news-media outlets).

Meanwhile, the entertainment side of the media biz (at least the movie and TV entertainment side) continue to hold its ground against the “open web” demanders.

By continuing to insist on affiliate rights fees from cable providers and streaming websites alike, the big media giants have largely kept themselves surviving, if not thriving.

Could the news biz, including the news sides of some of these same companies, learn something from this?

One Response  
  • ken boire writes:
    March 27th, 201212:17 pmat

    I am cheered to hear one of my books, “Inherit the Tide” was mentioned in your site. Mining for quotable praise or at least some non damaging hype, a personal search left me empty handed. I couldn’t find any reference much less a quote. Where should I be looking? Both “Inherit the Tide” and “In the Company of
    Fishers” are rich in the lore of old Seattle. “Fishers” is the one that hit paydirt with great reviews and decent sales. Nothing lasts forever and at this point both books could use a shot of press adrenalin especially “Inherit the Tide”. The subject of bigotry in Seattle drives both books. This is always a sensitive area and I think they provide a worthwhile message to serious young adult readers. Thanks for a great Blog.

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