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The Internet and the Media


Academic year: 2021

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The Internet and the Media


The Internet and the Media

Few industries have been transformed by the Internet as much as the media

Some of the changes have been good, some bad

Some of the bad changes are, in hindsight, from outlets shooting themselves in the foot, with roots that go back to the mid-1990s There are still unresolved issues

The Internet and the Media 2 / 24


The Web Explosion

Although commercial use of the Internet was legally possible by about 1990, there wasn’t very much interest until around 1994

The difference: the release of the first popular graphical web browser, NCSA Mosaic

This was followed soon afterwards by the first commercial browser and web server, from Netscape

Microsoft hurriedly added TCP/IP and a web browser to Windows 95, not that long before its release

The Internet was suddenly usable by non-nerds—and its use exploded

The Internet and the Media 3 / 24


The Tenor of the Times

Driven by the rise of Internet-related companies, the logic of doing business in a “digital” economy is starting to sweep through more and more precincts of American business. The result: One of the sacred tenets of business – you have to make money — suddenly looks almost like a quaint artifact of an outdated era. Many investors care less about a company’s being in the black than about its ability to win turf in what has become a giant land grab.

“In a slower world, such as a textile company, profits do mat- ter,” says Greg Bohlen, an investment banker at J.C. Bradford & Co., Nashville, Tenn. But in the Internet age, “it’s extremely important to gather mass and be the first and biggest out there,” he says. “When you’re in a fast-paced world" and when "the barriers to entry are very low, profits don’t matter — it becomes market share.”

Wall Street Journal, May 19, 1999

The Internet and the Media 4 / 24


The Media

The Internet seemed like a natural fit for the news media

The Internet was all about moving information around, and media companies already had the information

The challenge, as they saw it, was to gain market share—and mind share—rapidly

Profits would of course follow. . .

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The Basic Strategy

Give away the content for free Attract users

Profit by advertising, or maybe by charging—some day

The Internet and the Media 6 / 24


Even Google Started that Way

The original Google search engine results page had no ads

(Actually, there was a lot of doubt that Internet advertising actually worked)

Google got people hooked by delivering better search results—and then they started selling ads

The Internet and the Media 7 / 24


It Couldn’t Last

The .com bubble burst in 2000

The ones that couldn’t show a profit went away

Most of the old-type media survived, as did their websites—for a while

The Internet and the Media 8 / 24


The Search for a Business Model

To survive, media companies needed to make money online

In the pre-Internet days, subscriptions covered only a portion of the costs—ads provided a majority of the revenue stream

Could that be replicated online? Most sites tried.

The Internet and the Media 9 / 24


The Internet Wasn’t the Only Factor

In 1960, New York City had seven daily newspapers: the New York Times, the Herald Tribune, the Journal American, the World Telegram and Sun, the Daily News, the Post, and the Daily Mirror

A decade later, there were only three

The culprits: higher costs and competition from television newscasts

The Internet and the Media 10 / 24


Online Ads and News Sites

It isn’t feasible to have nearly as much advertising online as used to appear in print newspapers

But serious journalism is expensive: the New York Times has 1,700

reporters, the Wall Street Journal has over 1,800, and even the Washington Post has more than 1,000

Smaller papers don’t have staffs that large—but they also have much smaller readership

The Internet and the Media 11 / 24


Classified Ads

Newspapers used to make a lot of money from classified ads for jobs, houses, used cars, etc.

The Internet mostly killed that—specialized ad sites for real estate, jobs, dating, etc.

Craig’s List did the rest

The Internet and the Media 12 / 24


Smaller, Local Papers

Even before the Internet, most newspapers couldn’t afford Washington correspondents, let alone foreign correspondents

Instead, they covered local and perhaps state news, and relied on wire services—Associated Press, UPI, Reuters, etc.—for broader coverage

The Internet and the Media 13 / 24


Radio and Television

Radio had always depended on ads for their sole support—but enough bandwidth for that much streaming is expensive


Local advertisers aren’t interested in listeners half a world away

TV stations used to be completely ad-supported; these days, however, many collect a lot of money from cable networks that want to carry their signal

Television bandwidth is even more expensive

The Internet and the Media 14 / 24


Internet Ads

News sites, of course, can do all the usual sorts of of tracking

However—advertisers can measure click-through and conversion: how many ads result in sales

This creates pressure to attract people to pages with ads

The Internet and the Media 15 / 24


The Race for Clicks—You Won’t Believe #3

Many sites do all sorts of things to get you to certain pages

Should hard news sites—like the New York Times—do such things?

One opinion I’ve heard: “If they want to run clickbait stories to keep the business going, that’s fine, if it lets me cover real stories”

The Internet and the Media 16 / 24


Google and Facebook

Google and Facebook have captured the largest share of online ad dollars This leaves little money to go to the news sites

Besides, many people are getting their news from Facebook, rather than from the news sites

The Internet and the Media 17 / 24



Many sites started adopting paywalls: to read beyond the headlines, you needed to subscribe

A few sites, e.g., the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, have always charged

They might be modified paywalls: a few free articles per month Other sites share some articles but not all: Politico versus Politico Pro The important sites can do this—but can small, local outlets?

The Internet and the Media 18 / 24



Many outlets cover a lot less than they used to

Example: In 1981, the Sunday New York Times always had a photography article, accompanied by 3–4 pages of camera ads

And the Times covers a lot less of New York City than it used to. . . Even the sports section has shrunk significantly

The Internet and the Media 19 / 24


Outside Funding

Some media outlets have outside funding Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post

Craig Newmark, of Craig’s List fame, has donated a lot of money to various journalism outlets

NPR has always been largely listener-supported

But does this scale? Do funders have their own agendas?

The Internet and the Media 20 / 24


News Deserts

More and more, local papers are closing


Sometimes, private equity firms buy them, strip them of assets, and shut them down

A substantial proportion of the country has no local papers

They cover local stories—and they’re also more trusted than the national media

The Internet and the Media 21 / 24


The Problem

The print news media has long been under economic stress The Internet has exacerbated the stresses

The 1990s concept—gain “eyeballs” (market share) at all costs, and that

“information wants to be free—has turned into a trap: people are now unwilling to pay for news, and today’s online advertising doesn’t cover costs

The Internet and the Media 22 / 24


What Can Be Done?

There do not seem to be any simple solutions

Competition for the online ad market might help, in that it may allow more money to flow to sites

There have been attempts at aggregation sites—pay once for access to many, or some number of articles

It is unclear how well these will work (except, of course, for Facebook)

The Internet and the Media 23 / 24



(Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Morningside Park, December 5, 2021)


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