The surprise announcement that the Graham family is giving up control of the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos seems to signal another tolling of the bell in the death knell of journalistic content: lack of readers and relevance in the commercially all-important 20-30 demographic segment. But in fact, it is a sign that content is healthier than ever: it’s the financial model behind newspapers that is in need of tinkering.
Consider these closely-held popular myths about the industry:
- Younger people don’t read newspapers
- Consumption of long-form content is declining
- The journalistic news model is archaic in the face of blogs and ‘citizen journalism’.
As Tom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute conveyed on the PBS NewsHour on Monday, these are misperceptions of the real challenges (and opportunities) of journalism. In fact, younger audiences (18 to 25) are consuming journalistic news and long-form content in greater numbers than ever–even via smartphone. Journalism matters to the public conversation more than it ever has; it is only (and ‘only’ is a major understatement) the distribution model of that content that has changed.
So, the challenge for the industry is not to gain eyeballs and win back loyal readers, but to come up with a financial model for the digital and mobile era that replaces print advertising and classifieds. With Craigslist owning popular peer-to-peer advertising for goods and services, a key revenue component was destroyed in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, at the same time, interest in long-form journalistic content has only grown.
What the Jeff Bezos/Graham deal does is give the newspaper breathing room to explore new models, without the short-term pressures faced by a public company. The deal is a recognition of the increasing value of content (Yes: especially long-form content) in the age of screens and mobile.