Lots of journobloggers have noted the LA Times’ report that they’ve made enough money online to pay for their editorial production (even though the numbers have been disputed). I want to point out another bright spot: Daily Kos made over $1 million in revenue last year.
True, DailyKos is not a “news” site in the traditional sense, but think about it: a weblog made over $1 million in revenue last year. They did so through a combination of subscriptions (people pay to disable advertisements – a paltry $40/year or $100 for a lifetime subscription) and advertisements.
As a result, DK has employed 9 full-time staffers (including a techie) with benefits.
Why focus on a weblog when we’re talking about supporting traditional journalism?
Because the simple fact is this: there are no new business models for news. News is not entertainment, so there isn’t going to be an iTunes for news. The only possible models are these: advertiser-supported and reader-supported (through subscriptions or donations).
How are we going to pay for journalism online? Through some innovative uses of those traditional models. That’s what DailyKos has done.
Journalism is going to survive by news businesses adopting a “coins in the couch” approach to advertising and reader support.
For the longest time, media companies – especially big newspaper operations – were able to rely on big advertisers to provide most of their ad revenue. If you’re the Chicago Tribune, why send an ad rep. out to try to get a 1-inch ad from a local mom and pop store when you’ve got five full-page ads from JC Penney or Sears? Why sell ads for your online site when you can make hundreds of times the commission for a print ad?
But now media companies are paying for that neglect. And if we want to keep funding full-time journalists for the future, media companies are going to need to go back to the couch and start shaking out the coins. A couple of quick thoughts:
No advertiser is too small – Sell online ads to local companies, and offer to help them develop their online sites. A local restaurant doesn’t have a web site? Offer them a chance to pay for an ad and also to develop their menu online (Google is already here – you need to be too). And promote those web sites through restaurant guides (unique to web) and entertainment calendars.
Break online ads away from print – Stop selling “package deals” in which the online is nothing more than an add-on. Sell online as something important. Start treating it like it is important. Create a separate part of your ad sales staff who is totally devoted to online sales – this may be a loss-leader for a while, but will eventually pay off.
Ask for donations – If people value your journalism, then you should ask them to help support it, but not through subscriptions in the traditional sense. Use the NPR/PBS model. Set up a “donate” button on your site and use it to help fund journalism on your site.
Work with the ad department – this is probably most controversial, but I’m going to say someone needs to be talking to the ad folks to sell ads along all those cool multimedia products, all those databases, all those interactive graphics. You’ve got a great package about the local college basketball team? Let someone sell a sponsorship. You’ve got a fascinating graphic about politics and health? Call the ad dept. and see if they have a sponsor. I’m not saying you should compromise your editorial independence, but you should clue in those in the revenue-generating part of your operation so they can help you all keep your jobs.
Again, not that much new – but I don’t see a lot of this going on. Maybe I’m missing it. If I am, please send me some links and I’ll be happy to point them out.