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Research: Building a Sustainable Newsroom

News Story

Dyson Assistant Professor Mirjana Pantic, PhD, and Jade Perez ’20 have been studying the ever-changing journalism industry, with a research focus on building a model for an economically and qualitatively sustainable newsroom.

Newsrooms across the country have seen better days—or at the very least, more stable days. It’s no secret that over the course of the 21st century, the industry has undergone a rapid transformation that has affected everything from advertising revenue, quality of content, and public perception of news distributors. The most noticeable change, of course, is the method in which Americans are consuming the news. According to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, more Americans are now getting news from social media outlets as opposed to traditional print newspapers.

Understanding that this rapid shift will continue to have a huge effect on how news is distributed and consumed in both the short- and long-term, Dyson Assistant Professor of Media, Communications, and Visual Arts Mirjana Pantic, PhD, sought to investigate the landscape of media in the United States in hopes of better understanding the factors necessary to create a sustainable newsroom model—one that both is financially healthy and profitable, but also maintains its commitment to integrity and journalistic objectivism.

To assist her in the research, Pantic enlisted Jade Perez ’20, who is working with Pantic through the Office of the Provost’s Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research program. Perez, who has developed a strong rapport with Pantic through taking several of her classes throughout her undergraduate career, thought this would be an exciting opportunity to gain invaluable research experience, while delving further into an industry she’s hoping to better understand, and possibly pursue, after graduation.

“When (Professor Pantic) asked me if I wanted to be a part of this study, I was immediately thrilled,” said Perez. “In terms of journalism I think we’re a very interesting time. It’s just not the same as it used to be, and our study is exploring different business models…it’s beneficial to learn about these models as I’m going into that world.”

To start, Pantic conducted 11 in-depth interviews with representatives from different news organizations to gain better insight as to their approach to journalism, their financial realities, and the many ways they’re trying to innovate in an ever-changing landscape. Pantic strongly believes that in addition to understanding the many intricacies of journalism, it is arguably equally important for potential and current journalists to understand the business models of news organizations—as they are ever changing, and can sometimes even conflict with journalistic tenets.

“It’s not just about producing stories,” said Pantic. “It’s about knowing where the money is coming from as well.”

Through her interviews and general research, Pantic found that many news organizations, even with the transition to digital distribution, are relying heavily on advertising revenue. While advertising had long been the bread and butter for traditional print newspapers, today’s online news sites are competing with tech giants like Facebook and Google for advertising revenue. Given the landscape of the internet, Pantic notes that fighting for an increased share of this revenue may inevitably be a losing battle.

“They predominately rely on advertising revenue—80%-90% of revenue comes from advertising. But the problem is they’re now competing for ads with big technology companies,” said Pantic. “I think that’s their biggest challenge. To try and slowly shift from advertising to other sources of revenue.”

Pantic notes that nearly all newspapers are experimenting with alternative revenue streams—from the increasingly common paywall, to coverage of live events, to reader donations, and much more. The key, both Pantic and Perez note, is to strike a balance between all of the different revenue streams, while creating a quality product that reaches reader demand. Local newspapers, the duo notes, may have a different coverage strategy than larger, more national outlets, which may influence both the stories they cover and potential revenue streams.

Ultimately, the duo hopes to present their findings at an academic conference, and eventually publish their findings. Practically however, Pantic views the research in an even more important light—investigating this topic deeply will lead to more relevant teaching, which will enable students to understand the contemporary nature of the newspaper industry, and be much better prepared to make an impact in the field when they enter the real world.

“This research is not just important to us in terms of presenting and publishing. Jade is taking journalism classes, I’m teaching journalism classes. I just want to make sure the information we’re delivering in class is really contemporary," said Pantic. "We’re touching upon the burning issues in journalism today.”