Making news profitable

Since the dawn of the internet news organisations have been trying to figure out how to make news profitable. The big guns — The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, etc — have often led the way. Those efforts were aimed at generating revenue from online eyeballs, either through subscriptions or advertising. Those efforts have fallen short, and the industry is now teetering.

For a few years now, investors have been pouring money into online news with the kind of fervor that once fueled the minimansion boom. But in the past year, the boarded-up windows have started showing up: The Guardian, which bet heavily on expanding its digital presence in the United States, announced it needed to cut costs by 20 percent. The tech news site¬†Gigaom shut down suddenly, with its founder warning that “it is a very dangerous time” to be in digital media. Mobile-first ¬†Circa put itself on “indefinite hiatus.” Al Jazeera America, once hailed as the hottest thing in bringing together cable news and digital publishing, shut down and laid off hundreds of journalists.

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As the New York Times’ John Herrman put it, “in recent weeks, what had been a simmering worry among publishers has turned into borderline panic.” Mashable, which had made a big investment in news and current affairs, laid off dozens of journalists and pivoted to a new, video-heavy strategy. Investor darling BuzzFeed fought reports that it had slashed earnings projections by nearly 50 percent. Salon laid off a string of veteran staffers. Yahoo put its core business, including its news and search features, up for sale.

So what does the future hold? Newspapers as non-profits? Subscription-only journalism? An uninformed populace who doesn’t care about news? It’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.