The Future of News: Just Add Money

What with this being back-to-school day, I hate to start the week with a reading list. But it’s worth spending the time (3:30, I just clocked it) to read a column by Dave Morgan, chairman of the advertising firm Tacoda, in which he planks out ideas about the future of big city daily newspapers. Check out the comments too (another 4:00, including reflection).

There is plenty of blue-sky thumb-sucking (to coin a phrase) about the future of news, but Morgan’s vision is provocative. If I had to summarize it on a sticky note, it would be something like, “an always-on, multi-device, highly fragmented news ecology of very demanding micro-audiences.” 

I’d probably stick on another note which said, “How the hell is anybody going to make money at this?”

Morgan –conveniently! — has an answer. Tacoda is a leading behavioral targeting firm. These are the folks who put clients’ ads in front of Web users based not on demographics or target audience of the site, but by demonstrated individual behaviors: You know, people who own Ford 150 trucks and use Verizon Wireless and drink Budweiser and spend a lot of time playing fantasy football on Friday nights.

Which is to say: Morgan’s company is eerily well positioned to thrive in an always-on, multi-device, highly fragmented news ecology of very demanding micro-audiences. 

The value in Morgan’s viewpoint is precisely its self-interested nature. Most blue-sky thumb-sucking ™ about the future of news is being done by folks on the supply side of the business: The people who make the content. Their vision of the future is eerily self-interested too: Trusted brands will matter. Journalism matters. There will always be economic value in editorial standards and judgments. Build quality content and the advertising will come. 

So it’s useful to hear the views of someone who sits on the other side of the transaction, who has no loyalty to trusted media brands, editorial standards or, for that matter, journalism. From Morgan’s side of the economic equation, what matters is being able to serve ads to the right people in the right place in the right time.

As information monopolies implode, there’s little doubt that the power to shape the future of media lies in the hands of those who figure out how–to draw on a phrase from the heyday of newspaper journalism–to “follow the money.” Newsfolk, who are in danger of imagining a future based on sentiment and habit, would do well to pay attention to those whose careers are devoted to that.

Which they just might: Morgan is gathering his ideas at the request of the National Newspaper Association, which has sought diverse perspectives of the future for a visioning project. I insist on being encouraged. 

Explore posts in the same categories: advertising, behavioral targeting, media, news, print-to-digital, Tacoda, weather

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