ESPN’s purge further confirmation we’re at the end of something

26 Apr

If you don’t live in the journalism-news bubble, you may have missed it: ESPN, the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports, laid off around 100 people on Wednesday.

“Who cares” is quite possibly your reaction. I hate the word “should” so I’m not going to tell you to care, but I am going to insist it matters.

ESPN dumping so many talented reporters over the side, including basically their entire hockey desk, is further confirmation that the corporate model of journalism that we’ve been living in for nearly two decades is quickly coming to an end. Nearly-free doesn’t work.

Now do I have your attention?

Get used to paying for your crucial news analysis again. There’s a reason why the Washington Post and New York Times (and The Guardian to some extent) are going hard after subscribers.

The old way, the way those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s are so used to, a world driven by advertising revenue, is done.

The shift seen by American newspapers a decade ago, Canadian newspapers more recently, has finally hit television with a vengeance.

Notice how so much of the best programming is being made by the likes of Netflix? They don’t have a single ad on their service. It’s all paid for directly by you.

That’s the future. It feels a bit like the past — except in the past, while everyone may have subscribed to a newspaper, that’s not where the real cash was. The real cash was in the ads bundled in to the paper. The news was the loss leader.

That model isn’t coming back. The amazing ad bubble seen by newspapers from the 1970s through to the early years of the new century will be seen as the exception to the history of news-making.

The splintering of the TV marketplace, first wrought by the expansion of cable and reinforced by the blending-in of the internet, has crushed that bubble now too.

Your media future is thus: you’ll be paying for everything that has value. Basic news, the kind of ‘this happened then and here’s who was there’ story, that will float around and will be found everywhere. The analysis, the “here’s why it happened and what it means for you” stuff, that will be what you’re paying for.

Get ready.

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