The aberration of 20th-century journalism

“High-quality, high-cost, and crucially high-impact journalism is a cultural form worthy of our support and protection and not a commercial product in search of a business model.”

One of the only glimmers of hope in an otherwise dismal year has been the surge of new subscriptions and donations to media organizations, both big for-profits (The New York Times, The Washington Post) and smaller nonprofits (Mother Jones, ProPublica). It may have been the prospect of four or more years under Trump that has finally convinced some people that journalism is something worth paying for. I hope, though, that in 2017 we go a step further and acknowledge that high-quality, high-cost, and crucially high-impact journalism is a cultural form worthy of our support and protection and not a commercial product in search of a business model.

gabriel-snyderDuring the great aberration of the 20th century, it was easy to confuse the two because so many media companies were able to subsidize their journalism with adjacent businesses, primarily advertising. (It’s worth noting that in the 21st century, the ad industry, whether it’s tied to journalism or not, is in as much disarray as the news business.) Attempts to find a new money-making activity with which to pair journalism have created new industries (content marketing, for one) but have had limited success in creating journalism operations that can sustain their mission. Cost centers rarely win resource disputes against revenue generators.

The post-election boom of subscriptions and contributions will lead the publications that haven’t already tried asking readers for support to do so, and I hope they find success. But it will not be enough to restore the robust daily local coverage and the thousands of journalists who once monitored statehouses, planning commissions, and police departments — to name just one vast swath of journalism that’s already been lost. In the decade between 2004 and 2014, newspapers saw $30 billion of print ad revenue disappear while their online advertising only increased by $2 billion. To make up that $28 billion difference, every single one of America’s 126 million U.S. households would need to shell out $222 every year for digital subscriptions to news organizations. To put that into perspective, Netflix, which offers a historically much easier to sell product — movies and TV shows — has an annual revenue per subscriber of about $100.

When a society places a higher value on a cultural form than what it can fetch on the open market, the traditional way to keep it vibrant and strong is through government and/or philanthropical support. There’s little hope of a Trump presidency funding a BBC-like national journalism operation — indeed it might be frightening if he did — so I hope wealthy individuals, private foundations, and other major donors come to understand that, not unlike opera and modern art, for journalism to have a chance to maintain its place in our shared civic life, it must be supported by those who value it the most and have the best opportunity to make a difference.

Gabriel Snyder is a former top editor at The New Republic, The Atlantic Wire, Newsweek, and Gawker.

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Trushar Barot   API or die

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Errin Haines   Chaos or community?

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Richard J. Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight