Separating the news

Some interesting tidbits in the study released today by the Knight Foundation (h/t Paige Cooperstien of PBS), on the economics of 18 non-profit news organizations (ProPublica, Center for Investigative Journalism, etc.). I was particularly struck by the finding that syndication is currently the fastest growing source of earned (i.e. non-foundation provided) revenue for the group as a whole, albeit from a small base:

Syndication – selling content for republication – generated a small share of total revenue in 2012. The dollar amount, though, increased four-fold from 2010, making it the fastest-growing type of revenue among the 18 news organizations…

Eleven news organizations report revenue from syndication, nearly double the number in 2010.

The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, for instance, saw its syndication revenue grow from nothing in 2010 to 11 percent of its total revenue in 2012. The New England CIR went from 5 percent to 10 percent, while New Jersey Spotlight went from zero to 9 percent.

The study goes on to note that investigative news organizations increasingly are turning their distribution partners into paying customers for their content.:

Syndication offers a revenue stream as well as wide exposure and branding opportunities. This is particularly true for investigative organizations and others that create unique, in-depth content that many traditional organizations are no longer able to produce.

Over time, I think that kind of specialization and division of labor will become a more prominent feature of for-profit news organizations as well. In an age when exclusivity — once the coin of the newspaper realm — has lost much of its value it really makes no sense for a news aggregator/publisher to generate all (or most) of its content internally, especially online, where the potential to aggregate and widgetize your presentation of the news, drawn from multiple sources, is essentially limitless.

Over time, I think news producers will become increasingly specialized, and news aggregators/publishers will become less dependent on in-house content. What’s needed — but still largely missing — is a functioning marketplace that would allow information sellers and buyers to conduct business.