Journalism is more than a customer acquisition strategy

The many media channels that have blossomed so dramatically over the past few years now provide fantastic fuel for supporting journalism in the world.

While this is a good thing, generally, it’s important to recognize that the business models supporting many of these media channels are optimized for something other than journalism and its effects.

Unless journalism is the core commercial activity at a company or its reason for being then journalism will be used along with many other tools to capture attention. It risks being tossed out the window when ROI as seen through an attention lens drops compared with other activities.

Few organizations are capable of withstanding the cost argument in the face of adversity. We’ve seen this play out recently as budget pressure weighs heavier and heavier on traditional media and opportunity cost embeds itself deeply into decision-making at the fast-growing digital platforms.

Despite pressure on budgets traditional media seems to be increasingly aware of the unique opportunity in front of it right now.

The processes, policies and staffing that enable the challenging reporting that hold power in check could help news orgs recapture their role as both trusted information provider and as independent voice for the people.

The new digital platforms are looking the other way still, too busy trying to grow.

Yes, they are becoming much more sophisticated in the way they think about publishing, but at the end of the day most of the digital pureplay media models are predicated on how well they move attention around.

On the other hand, I’m seeing more clearly now than ever before how open contribution platforms are capable of adopting, applying and reinventing most of those processes and policies of traditional editorially-led organizations that we as a very well informed society have taken for granted in our transition to digital media channels.

The two worlds may in fact collide or rather consolodate as they swirl around seemingly more common goals. And those that understand how to create and extract real value from journalism or things that act like journalism are going to matter more to people, have an impact on real issues and build meaningful brands.

I agree with Ryan Sweeney that quality winning over quantity is a tremendously healthy thing. The pendulum has swung in the right direction, but we mustn’t be surprised if it swings back.

If the journalism budget is merely a row in your customer acquisition spreadsheet then it will only take one or two public smackdowns to kill that function of the business. It needs a stronger foundation supporting it.

Tony Fadell, creator of the iPod, once told the crowd at LeWeb, “There is a reason they call it hardware. It is hard.”

Journalism is hard, too. It’s not an add-on. It’s something you are.