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Nieman Journalism Lab
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The value (and weakness) of niche

“Online advertising is still fleeting, and no amount of social metrics canoodling, in my view, is likely to change that — even for Facebook.”

Next year, I expect to see more people taking a hard look at whether — and when — paywalls really work. We have seen evidence that they generate revenue (but not nearly enough) at the biggest sites, but I am not sure what the takeaway is for the local level. The harsh reality that hackfests, news startups without business models, and open source and hacker journalism will not provide any financial opportunity may be more clear, even if all this work leads to more reinvention in journalism.

The long slow bleed of money, advertising, and resources from newspapers will continue, and we will see (in less obvious ways) similar patterns emerge for network news. People are excited about partisan and hyper-involved cable news viewers as revenue streams (and niche viewers), but we need to remember just how small, ultimately, these audiences are in the grand scheme. (Fox News averages about 2 million viewers in prime time versus about 20 million or so for the networks.)

To me, the question about partisanship is deeply concerning as these folks (on both sides) are information-seekers, while the majority of people tend to become most involved when an issue presents itself as relevant to their daily life (think the Connecticut school shooting and gun law debates). These information-seeking behaviors are deeply concerning — especially when we think about a decrease in the availability of quality local news. (If, of course, that news indeed was quality to begin with — a presumption we must question.)

It seems to me that David Carr is always right on, and his most recent column suggests a pattern that we will be increasingly cognizant of: that niche is useful — if not hamstery, and can succeed if it isn’t — because it’s niche. But online advertising is still fleeting, and no amount of social metrics canoodling, in my view, is likely to change that — even for Facebook. I would be delighted to be wrong about this.

Nikki Usher is an assistant professor at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.