The year we stop pivoting

“No one platform can solve all of our audience growth and revenue problems. We should have all learned our lesson from one of the many pivots of the last few years.”

The media industry has become obsessed with pivoting. As the industry changed rapidly and repeatedly, and as advertising revenue dwindled, journalists and media companies tried to stay ahead of the curve by pivoting to the “next” thing — multiple times. The industry’s instability has led many to chase new platforms or formats, hoping they can bring security and stability — whether that’s video, podcasts, newsletters, Facebook, or TikTok.

There was the infamous pivot to video of 2015, which turned out to be a spectacular failure, with Facebook admitting to inflating video views in 2016 and then changing its algorithm in 2017. There was the time every publisher was competing to get a Snapchat Discover channel. There was that month when everyone tried to launch a prestige true-crime podcast. Then it was publishers trying to figure out how to go viral on TikTok.

The most recent pivot is to newsletters, as several journalists have left established publications to strike out on their own. And Substack may be the new shiny platform on the block, but newsletters as a medium aren’t new. A handful of journalists going full-time on newsletters shouldn’t be viewed as a sea change in how the media industry operates.

It’s time to stop pivoting. Publishers need to stop chasing the newest, hottest platform of the moment; no one platform can solve all of our audience growth and revenue problems. We should have all learned our lesson from one of the many pivots of the last few years: Putting all our hopes into one platform is a mistake. And the human costs of those mistakes are very real — investing significant resources into a pivot has frequently led to layoffs when publishers realize they can no longer sustain entire teams working on a single platform when that platform isn’t generating the revenue they’d hoped for.

Instead, publishers in 2021 should stay the course and focus on a diverse portfolio instead of placing all their bets on the newest thing. Text, video, podcasts, newsletters, Facebook, Instagram — even Tiktok — all are important. Rather than putting all our eggs in one basket, though, a wise media organization in 2021 knows that it’s better to reach each platform’s unique audience where they are instead of putting all their resources into just one.

Nisha Chittal is director of audience and engagement at Vox.com.

The media industry has become obsessed with pivoting. As the industry changed rapidly and repeatedly, and as advertising revenue dwindled, journalists and media companies tried to stay ahead of the curve by pivoting to the “next” thing — multiple times. The industry’s instability has led many to chase new platforms or formats, hoping they can bring security and stability — whether that’s video, podcasts, newsletters, Facebook, or TikTok.

There was the infamous pivot to video of 2015, which turned out to be a spectacular failure, with Facebook admitting to inflating video views in 2016 and then changing its algorithm in 2017. There was the time every publisher was competing to get a Snapchat Discover channel. There was that month when everyone tried to launch a prestige true-crime podcast. Then it was publishers trying to figure out how to go viral on TikTok.

The most recent pivot is to newsletters, as several journalists have left established publications to strike out on their own. And Substack may be the new shiny platform on the block, but newsletters as a medium aren’t new. A handful of journalists going full-time on newsletters shouldn’t be viewed as a sea change in how the media industry operates.

It’s time to stop pivoting. Publishers need to stop chasing the newest, hottest platform of the moment; no one platform can solve all of our audience growth and revenue problems. We should have all learned our lesson from one of the many pivots of the last few years: Putting all our hopes into one platform is a mistake. And the human costs of those mistakes are very real — investing significant resources into a pivot has frequently led to layoffs when publishers realize they can no longer sustain entire teams working on a single platform when that platform isn’t generating the revenue they’d hoped for.

Instead, publishers in 2021 should stay the course and focus on a diverse portfolio instead of placing all their bets on the newest thing. Text, video, podcasts, newsletters, Facebook, Instagram — even Tiktok — all are important. Rather than putting all our eggs in one basket, though, a wise media organization in 2021 knows that it’s better to reach each platform’s unique audience where they are instead of putting all their resources into just one.

Nisha Chittal is director of audience and engagement at Vox.com.

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