April 18, 2016 Last Updated 7:51 am

For both new and old media, build it and they will come doesn’t translate into profits

Morning Brief: Margaret Sullivan wraps up her successful run as Public Editor at The New York Times, now it is off to The Washington Post were she will be writing more generally about the media

The New York Times on Sunday looked at the problems at many of the new media websites that have recently announced layoffs or major shifts in direction. John Hermann who wrote the piece, is one of three journalists that earlier this year were awarded David Carr fellowships.

Hermann places the trouble with new media websites on the joint problems of web advertising and web traffic that he says has “plateaued” at many websites.

“With each turn of the screw, people began to realize, viscerally, that this is what it feels like to not be in control of your destiny,” Scott Rosenberg, formerly of Salon told Hermann.

The piece is one of those typical of old media’s look at new media. It fails to look in the mirror to see that while many of the websites mentioned – Gawker, Mashable, BuzzFeed – are having difficulties, old media companies are meanwhile buying up boatloads of these companies in order to boost their web traffic with demographics that they deem desirable. The acquisitions make news, but will they lead to new profits?

Beginning next week through mid-May we will begin seeing how the first quarter looked at many media companies that acquired new media properties º and there is a good chance that at least some will attempt to turn the conversation towards their latest cost cutting initiatives rather than bragging up the fact that their new digital properties are translating into huge revenue gains.

Margaret Sullivan penned her last column as Public Editor at The New York Times this weekend. Sullivan touched on this very subject herself, remarking on the NYT looks very different today than her old gig at the Buffalo News.


These days, though, The Times seems like a digital media company that happens to put out a newspaper. Over the past four years, it has been scrambling to find a sustainable business model to support its journalistic ambitions, including a newsroom staff of more than 1,300. It’s trying new things and, as some of them inevitably fail, it’s moving on to try others.

The old business model, based on print advertising and print subscriptions, is broken. A new one — based on digital subscriptions, new advertising forms, and partnerships with other businesses and media platforms — is in the works. There are hopeful signs, high ambitions and lofty plans, but certainly no guarantee of success.

While her Saturday column was good, her Friday blog post was far more essential reading. In it, Sullivan identifies five elements of the way the paper is doing its reporting she finds troubling, as well as seven things she will miss about working at the paper.

Item #2 is the one that struck a cord with me:

“The idea that whatever The Times does is, by definition, the right thing,” Sullivan wrote. “In editorial matters, this manifests itself as, “It’s news when we say it’s news.” Examples: Initially underplaying the Panama Papers; not covering much of the early days of Chelsea Manning’s trial (she was then known as Pfc. Bradley Manning); assigning a reporter to Hillary Clinton more than three years before the election; not digging in early on the water crisis in Flint, Mich.”

What Sullivan doesn’t say is that the reason the paper has under played The Panama Papers is that it was not invited to participate with other media outlets in examining the giant documents leak from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca. The NYT’s go it alone way to reporting simply doesn’t fit a situation where the data and news it creates is of a size and international scope that the resources of many organizations are needed to properly vet the information.

Sullivan now has finished her three year run at the NYT and will move over to The Washington Post where she will be a media columnist.

The Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, asked over 2,000 adults what makes them trust and rely on the news. The answers show that the press continue to be seen as only somewhat more worthy of trust than the US Congress – and when you are being compared to the Congress you know it is a bad thing.


The study (PDF) asked survey participants if, when looking at a list of institutions, “would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?” As you can see above, “the press” only garnered six percent of responses saying “a great deal of confidence” – 41 percent said “hardly any confidence at all.

Most respondents picked the middle position for each institution – “only some confidence” – and none could muster 50 percent saying a great deal of confidence, showing that the public is leery of just about all institutions these days.

There were some other interesting findings in the report, other than confirmation of how low the media is looked at by the public: 55 percent said they owned a tablet such as an iPad or GalaxyTab; most say they get their news throughout the day rather than just once a day; and most adults say the getting the news remains an extremely or very important thing to them.

Television remains the most important source of news, but 64 percent they now can access that television news via their tablet. On the other hand, only 20 percent say they still subscribe to a print newspaper, while another 11 percent pay for the online version of the paper. 16 percent pay for both.

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