The digital era has brought two things which are great for the consumer and terrible for the news field as a business: first, the Internet has reduced printing and distribution costs down to almost zero. This means that newspapers, individuals, companies, non-profit organizations, government and anyone, really, can easily distribute their content to anyone who's interested in finding it. This is great for consumers because they can access whatever they want, whenever they want, almost always for free. As part of this process, consumers have also become creators of information, collectors of information and sharers of information through blogs, forums and through popular applications like Facebook and Twitter. Access to experts, opinion and basic facts is not exclusive anymore. Who needs to buy a newspaper to read classified advertising when one can find products and services anytime on the world wide web?
Second, this ubiquity of on-line information and the proliferation of hundreds of specialty television channels through cable and satellite distribution, has diminished the importance of news organizations. People today have thousands of choices for content and thousands of choices for how they spend their "media time." For the news business this has become a problem. In the early 1980s, when channels were few, many news programs on television, especially local news, could capture as much as a twenty percent (20%) share of the available audience. This meant something to advertisers, who knew they could reach a significant portion of the population by advertising on these programs. Now, with hundreds of channels and the Internet, local news shows do well when they reach a two percent (2%) share of the viewing audience. This means less revenue from advertising and big financial challenges for news organizations.
Experts in the business of media, like Robert G. Picard, point the way forward. The challenge for news organizations is to find new economic value. They must discover ways to offer unique and different information such that people will see this service as valuable in a media universe of sameness and plenty. In a recent presentation by Picard to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, he pointed this out:
" Journalism must innovate and create new means of gathering, processing and distributing information so it provides content and services that readers, listeners, and viewers cannot receive elsewhere. And these must provide sufficient value so audiences and users are willing to pay a reasonable price.
"If value is to be created, journalists cannot continue to report merely in the traditional ways or merely re-report news that has appeared elsewhere. They must add something novel that creates value."
This presents a real challenge.