Three takeaways from Columbia’s Business of Digital Journalism study: Audience, advertising, aggregation

Newsrooms, take note: Before you crank up your staffers in pursuit of today’s stories, have them spend an hour understanding its future.

It’s not that Columbia University answers all that many questions in its analysis of the dollars — and nickels and dimes — of journalism. But along with responses from Jan Schaffer, Felix Salmon and Staci Kramer, Columbia authors Bill Grueskin, Ava Seave and Lucas Graves offer up an accessible package of stats, nuggets and case studies that smart readers will translate to tips for their own circumstances.

The 143-page report concludes with nine recommendations — and you may find a reverse read the most effective way through the document.

Here’s what stands out for me after a quick, early morning read:

  • Audience: We’ve known for years that journalism’s problem is not diminished audience. The audience for news is growing dramatically, dispersing itself into multiple audiences across even more venues. The Columbia study does a good job analyzing those different audiences and, with multiple case studies, showing how some news organizations are beginning to monetize them quite effectively. Pay walls are just a small part of that story. The paper’s lead author, Bill Grueskin, was at The Wall Street Journal when its pay wall was introduced. The authors suggest journalists would be ill-served by relying too heavily on it for their financial futures.

Are you still with me, newsrooms? Here’s an idea for tomorrow’s morning meeting: What implications does the Columbia study hold for your news organization?

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  • Thad McIlroy

    I think the report is more important than you imply. The most important question in online publishing remains: what’s the business model? The answer today: Display advertising. The Columbia report’s conclusion about display: “A small, rectangular banner ad conveys little useful information.” Louder, I didn’t hear you. Display advertising is a failed business model (my words). Advertising works well in print and in broadcast news. The display ad tried to mimic the format. It failed. Only Google’s search-based advertising works thus far, but that model doesn’t appear to offer much value to news organizations. So the report notes, in its understated fashion, that journalists must “gain a fuller appreciation for how advertisers now reachtheir customers via social media, new-media ads and search engine optimization.”I review it here: