roger mitchell
27 October 2018

The Odyssey of journalism

roger mitchell
27 October 2018


What comes before, the chicken or the egg?

The content or the business model?


The world of journalism (now sadly labeled as “content”) has, with hindsight, endured the travails of its own Odyssey.

It went like this:

  • There’s this thing called the Internet.
  • We need to showcase our journalism there for new younger readers.
  • Wait, all our competitors now have an online version of their paper, we need to invest more. Double down.
  • Never mind about getting paid, this is the “big idea”. No choice.
  • I know we are losing print readers and classified ads, so we need to monetize the digital “content.” What’s this programmatic lark?
  • Ads online are for sure the future.
  • Digital ads work on eyeballs and the amazing thing is that a 2 sec glance counts. The media buyers will pay for that. Can you believe it?
  • All we need to do is to convince them to click on a headline and the ad server does the rest.  But the headline needs to tempt them. Get it?
  • Clickbait.
  • – This model is great, how do we access more of these “flyby” viewers? Did someone say Facebook?
  • Wow, look how we can get huge numbers of eyeballs if we “game” the Facebook algorithm! I can actually buy traffic?
  • Forget that we aren’t selling our print copies. Haven’t you heard of Business Insider, Mashable, Buzzfeed, Upworthy. Haven’t you seen the valuations the market gives them?
  • I don’t care about longform quality journalism, it needs to tempt a click, be quickly consumable, controversial and ideally salacious. Get me Outbrain and Taboola on the line.
  • What do you mean they’ve changed their algorithm again? What do you mean advertisers are complaining about quality of views? What do you mean they don’t like being placed beside shit content? Are they that old?
  • Pivot to video. The CPM is significantly higher. Yeah yeah, any old content. We just need a click.
  • Don’t tell me we are not monetizing Facebook Watch and Instant Articles? That’s not what they promised us! It will come.
  • Get rid of those expensive journalists on the print side. We’re bleeding cash. I’m not interested if they’re the people than can actually write.
  • How do Vice make that money and charge so much? Brand you say?
  • I dare you:  say “algorithm change” once more time motherfucker!
  • Get one of the kids in. What does “engagement” actually mean?
  • I don’t read Digiday so I don’t care if they think “passer-by readers are dead” on every podcast.
  • Is there anyone still working on the print edition?
  • – What do you mean branded content needs good writing?
  • So they’ve now actually said they’ll actively penalize clickbait? I’ve never liked Zuckerberg.
  • Here’s an idea; why don’t we charge for journalism? A subscription.
  • Ok, I get it. Programmatic is dead. Branded content needs intense engagement metrics. People will only pay a subscription for good shit? Let me speak to that old codger that used to write 1500 words between G&Ts.
  • Who are all these amateur writers and video creators putting out all this excellent content? That’s not good for us. Let’s call them some pejorative name like blogger or keyboard warrior. How many followers?
  • Another writer lost to the Athletic? Oh come on.
  • People will never pay for Real Vision. There is too much good free stuff out there.
  • The players are doing their own masthead now? With a branded content studio? That won’t work, they’re too young to remember United Artists.
  • What happened? I don’t deserve the sack. I followed every fad around.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the story of the last dozen years in what used to be called the newspapers and magazine business. I, Albachiara, have had a ringside seat in all this, in a case study that will be in all the top business school MBAs.

 It will be called: The sociopaths who drank the Kool Aid.

 So where are we now?

Let’s focus merely on sports journalism (ok content if you must).

 It’s a segmented market. Many just want to be fed content to comment on tweets of famous pundits and, despite never getting a reply, usually end up arguing with vitriol with the same 100 guys about something else. The pundit influencer is long gone with a job well done. He provoked a “conversation”.

But over here, in a smaller segment, are writers and readers creating some really good stuff. Deep deep engagement around their club (no matter how small), around emotional storytelling, around authentic connection to make you smile, around tactics and analysis.

This content will be monetized by subscription, community ARPU, and branded content. It will be a business. It will employ writers of substance and talent.

Sounds easy? It’s not.

The bar is high. All parts need to dovetail perfectly. And don’t forget a 15yo isn’t a 55 yo, even if he/she likes the quality longform.

Welcome to the rebirth of journalism. Only quality need apply.