People who don’t work in the news media might not have noticed the outbreak of angst that followed the recent financial stumbles at young publications like BuzzFeed and Mashable.
It is true that the outlook is not great. But there is a bright side: The shakeout may end up taking all the air out of a little bubble that had inflated in the media world. With less hype, we may get to see which new ways of doing things actually work and which don’t. In fact, everything suggests that news consumers are going to get a product that is much more attuned to how they now find, read and discuss the news.
So while Mashable, a website that recently announced cuts, BuzzFeed and others may not yet have found the secret sauce, many of the ingredients are there. Those will now be used, improved and added to new ingredients, in the hope of building news operations that can reach millions of readers with strong journalism while generating reliable profits.
This probably isn’t going to happen soon, and the news industry seems likely to continue to shrink over all in the near term, but the future need not be grim for innovative publishers that produce well-reported and engaging stories.
One of the strengths of new publications was that they really understood that people found articles through social media sites like Facebook, where they are shared and used to start conversations. Last year, for instance, a survey by the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of millennials got their news about politics from Facebook. Where the newer publications may have gone wrong is in producing too many stories that were designed primarily for sharing and quick clicks, a trick that readers can grow tired of.
The solution for this is not easy or cheap. It requires producing articles that are likely to start conversations on social media but also don’t overpromise and then underdeliver.
There are no shortcuts to producing such articles, but skilled social media editors with a nose for good stories that will also excel on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other digital hangouts can make a big difference. Many already have.
Two years ago, the mobile apps for large newspapers mostly presented readers with simple lists of stories with dull headlines. Now they are far livelier, and play a role in driving readership and subscriptions higher.
The new publications also understood that a media organization has to acknowledge the enormous reach of Facebook or Google and work with them to gain revenue. An article this week from my colleague John Herrman contained a chilling number: In this year’s first quarter, 85 cents of every new dollar spent on online advertising will go to Google or Facebook....MOREHT: Ritholtz@Bloomberg