Will we look back on 2015 as the year we hit the tipping point for advertising-funded journalism? Television has been the last to be significantly disrupted and given its scale, this final chapter could be apocalyptic.
Recent events at MediaWorks and the announcement of merger talks between Fairfax and NZME reinforce these sentiments. So is the criticism being levelled at news organisation bosses reasonable and what obligations do we have as an industry to protect our journalistic infrastructure?
Criticism has been levelled at media owners for the reduction in investment in journalists, particularly in the current affairs and news categories. I believe this criticism to be naïve, failing to recognise that the economic structure that supported journalism has collapsed. Mainstream media has become at once global, digital and largely free, while distribution channels for advertiser’s commercial content and advertising have become virtually infinite.
It was contemporary consumerism that enabled journalism to flourish through the funding of traditional media through the 20th century.
As a society, we now have to decide if independent and local media is worth the investment to support a modern democracy and if so, who should fund it? It’s unrealistic to expect this to be done by advertisers. Or is it? Is the Lightbox funded The Spinoff a glimpse into the future? Or should this be left to bureaucrats and government – a chilling thought?
If we accept the argument that an independent media is critical to a modern democracy and that democracy supports free enterprise, then there is arguably a case for this to be a consideration when determining where you invest your marketing dollars. Are we comfortable witnessing millions of these dollars being repatriated offshore?
We are witnessing the end of times for contemporary advertising and media as the existing structures collapse, dissolve and coalesce into something new, possibly better. What gives me hope is the belief that human beings have a craving for information and a need of trusted and local sources and that there has always been a role for business to invest in the communities they generate profits from.
John Baker is the chief executive of Tangible Media within the ICG Group.