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There has been a great deal of hand-wringing about the future of journalism in the U.S. Newspapers and general news magazines have been facing an ongoing financial crisis as their subscribers, and the majority of younger readers, look to digital sources for the news and as companies shift their advertising dollars from print media to digital sites and social media. Many newspapers and some of general news magazines have abandoned print altogether and have tried to transform themselves into digital entities, but that transition has not been easy because the new media do not readily accommodate the entrenched print models for staffing and for generating revenue.
Likewise, network television viewership and, in particular, the ratings of the nightly news programs have continued to erode, and the cable news channels have attracted only a modest number of viewers. Worse, like the newspapers and general news magazines, television news is attracting fewer and fewer young viewers. As a result of these trends, a large number of experienced journalists have been laid off, and enrollments in journalism programs have declined, in some cases precipitously.
In response to these trends, pessimistic commentators have predicted the widespread disappearance of investigative journalism and the ascendancy of ideologically driven opinion over fact-gathering—in part because opinions are, of course, only as credible as the facts that support them.
But, in addition to the development of regional news services, some solely digital publications have been providing a glimpse of some of the new directions in which journalism may be heading. Business Insider is one of those transformative digital publications, and under the leadership of its CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Henry Blodgett, the news site has become a sort of incubator for generating new models in digital journalism. Blodgett made a fortune during the 1990s by forecasting dot-com stock values, though after the dot-com bubble burst, he became one of its casualties, paying substantial fines for securities fraud and accepting a lifetime ban from securities trading. Blodgett has hired some editors and writers both who have backgrounds like his own in digital media and others who have spent most of their careers in print media. This skillful mixture of perspectives seems to have been very effective.
At the end of January, Blodgett sent the following report to those who subscribe to any of the newsletters distributed by Business Insider:
“Business Insider is now larger than the Wall Street Journal. According to Comscore, our total U.S. readership last month, desktop and mobile, was 23 million people. The Journal’s was about 20 million. Thank you very much for reading us!
“We’re reaching the next generation of leaders — the digital generation. By design, we have a younger readership than most legacy business publications. Our average readers are in their mid- to high 30s, as compared to the mid-40s and up.
“Our international readership is also growing rapidly, and BI Australia, which launched 9 months ago, is already the No. 1 business site in the country. Globally, we are now read by more than 40 million unique visitors per month. We are fortunate to already have a boatload of enthusiastic readers in Europe, and we will be opening a newsroom in London later this year.
“Our readers love both our narrative journalism and our visual and data journalism — photography, video, and data analysis. Digital is a visual medium, and great pictures really can be worth a thousand words. We have always invested heavily in photography. Now, after a couple of years of experimenting, we’re investing heavily in “native” digital video production. Our increased investment in longer narrative journalism is also striking a chord. In the past year, we have published many major investigations and features. These stories have been read and shared by millions of readers worldwide.
“Our subscription service is growing rapidly, and subscriptions are on their way to becoming another major revenue stream. We are very optimistic about the future of free ad-supported journalism: Our core business grew 80% last year, and we were profitable in the fourth quarter. Adding subscription revenue will allow us to provide even deeper reporting and analysis in some of our core coverage areas, and we’re going to invest heavily in subscriptions going forward.
“Digital journalism is as different from print and TV journalism as print and TV are from each other. The key differences are in editorial approach, distribution, and economics. One big reason for our success is that we are enthusiastically embracing the ways that digital is different, instead of trying to jam square pegs in round holes. The key to success in digital, by the way, is producing great stories. There are no tricks or shortcuts. If you don’t have great stories that readers love and share, nothing else matters.
“Almost half of our readership is now on mobile, both tablets and smartphones. We are the largest and fastest-growing mobile business publication in the world. The iPhone is still the dominant mobile device used by our readers, followed by the iPad and Android devices. Mobile has also extended Business Insider’s readership day to “18×7”: Readers who used to just read us in the office on weekdays now read us during their commutes and in bed. And they also read us over the weekend.
“Digital news organizations today are like cable news in the 1980s (scrappy upstarts, small teams, big hair). Over the next couple of decades, today’s digital news organizations will just keep getting bigger and better. We now have 70 excellent full-time journalists at BI. Imagine what we’ll be able to do when we have 500!
“Thank you again for reading Business Insider and for helping to make our success possible. We listen closely to what you tell us, and we will keep striving to make the site better every day.”