Online Journalists Pin Hopes on Ads, Fret about Values

April 3, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Financial Services | Newspapers | Paid Search

Journalists who work online are more optimistic about the future of their profession than are news people tied to offline media, but still believe the internet is changing the values of journalism for the worse, according to a survey from Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Online News Association.

The survey found that despite the challenges of an “imploding business model,” four in 10 respondents are very confident that online news will “find a profitable and self-sustaining revenue model.” Similar numbers (43%) are somewhat confident, and only 11% are “not too” confident.


Hopes Pinned on Ad Revenue Model

Although the trajectory of online advertising started to flatten in 2008 and doubts persist about whether it will ever reach a scale that will underwrite the news, nearly two-thirds (65%) of online journalists believe advertising will be the most important revenue form in the next three years. Of those who say advertising will be paramount, one-third specifically cite display advertising, which to date has been the biggest form of online news revenue. Another 19% name search advertising and 14% cite video ads.


One-quarter of respondents, on the other hand, specify something other than advertising as the most important source of online news revenue in three years:

  • 7% say subscription fees
  • 5% say aggregators
  • 3% say donations from members
  • 9% offer a handful of suggestions such as providing content to hotels, selling documentary DVDs, setting up a press distribution service and renting out space in the organization’s garage.

Current Efforts to Monetize

In support of the hope for advertising, the survey found that 69% of respondents say their organizations are working very actively to develop new revenue streams, and the biggest area of this work (23%) is advertising. Another 17% they are trying to monetize mobile content, video or RSS. Interestingly, 37%, either chose not to or could not specify what their company was doing to find new revenue.


Journalism Headed in Wrong Direction

When asked about the future of journalism itself, most (54%) online journalists believe journalism is “headed in the wrong direction” (vs. 45% in the right direction), the survey found. However, this is a much more even split than seen among legacy national journalists in a Pew survey a year ago. In that group – and when the economy was stronger – 62% voiced pessimism and just 32% were optimistic.


A solid majority of those surveyed (57%) say the internet is “changing the fundamental values of journalism,” Pew said, adding that the biggest changes are a loosening of standards and increasing carelessness (45%), more outside voices (31%) and an increased emphasis on speed and immediacy (25%).

On the flip side, some journalists praise the growing diversity of voices, the potential of technology, and in some cases, even the move toward more overtly ideological points of view at news sites, Pew said

Additional findings from the survey:

  • When asked what online journalism is “doing especially well these days,” more named aspects of technology like using advancements well (31%) or speed (30%) than named reporting skills like improving storytelling (16%) or exploiting the potential for greater depth (12%).
  • 63% of respondents ranked original reporting as the most important type of information they produce. This was more than four times as much as the second-most important information type: aggregated material from wires and other legacy outlets (13%).
  • Contrary to current economic trends in the news industry, most online journalists report staff increases and are seeing their sites turn a profit – though this is still heavily influenced by how costs are accounted for.
  • Online journalists largely say they have been spared the kinds of staff cutbacks their legacy counterparts experienced in 2008. Some 39% reporte staff increases compared with a year earlier. Another third say their staff numbers have remained the same. Less than a quarter (23%) see staff decreases.

About the survey: The first-ever survey of nearly 300 members of the Online News Association (ONA) was produced jointly with Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), which drafted the questionnaire. Princeton Survey Research Associates administered the survey. The majority of those surveyed work for websites tied to legacy media and most have more than 11 years of experience in a newsroom setting.


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