Saving Journalism Is a Business Problem

Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

Twenty–five hundred years ago, the Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” Sometimes called the founder of the genre of tragedy, his words seem prophetic today as we assume a war-like stance in combatting a contemporary tragedy. Indeed, at this critical moment, the messengers of truth – trained, professional journalists – are themselves becoming another casualty of this war. While the demise of journalism, especially at a local level, has escalated rapidly since the arrival of the digital age and the collapse of the print ad-based revenue model, the trend has accelerated dramatically in recent weeks, and now demands even more urgent attention.

As Ben Smith argued recently in The New York Times, the existing business model of for-profit local newspapers may no longer be viable. While a handful of national news organizations like the Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post have a bright future, many local newspapers do not, even papers that have been pillars of their communities for decades. Because information now flows so easily and economically online, some smaller, local news organizations may need to pursue exclusively online journalism models as an important element of their future.

Last month, Margaret Sullivan wrote in the Washington Post “More than 2,000 newspapers have closed over the past 15 years, and a growing number of American counties are now news deserts, places where there is no regular source of local news.” Advertising revenues for newspapers in the US had fallen by 70% since 2006 before the COVID-19 crisis began. In recent weeks, advertising dollars have almost ground to a halt as a result of the pandemic. Kristen Hare at the Poynter Institute in Florida has begun cataloguing the newsroom layoffs, furloughs, and closures since the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s a long list that will certainly grow much longer.

Read the full Forbes article.
Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.