The Search for Solutions: The WTSJ Lab
Updated: Sep 25, 2019
Journalism is changing. It does not look the same as it used to. Some may think it is dying. But it isn’t. And it won’t. We (the WTSJ Lab) believe that we need to and can find solutions. We don’t yet have or know all the answers, but we see and recognize the issues and the obligation to act. We know the steps we can begin taking to sustain journalism.
To begin working toward a solution, we created the World Table Sustainable Journalism Lab. Partnering with distinguished universities and their best students, we will research and generate ideas. Those ideas will be tested and then introduced to the industry. We believe the answers to sustaining journalism must come through innovation, creativity, and teamwork; all things we encourage in our lab.
Though at times the news industry has been resistant to changes (Why Did Newspapers Fail To Innovate During The Digital Transformation?), it is not a stranger to innovation or changes. Most newspapers have, by necessity in recent years, been exploring different avenues to stay relevant and economically solvent. They have had to develop an online presence that features a wide range of multimedia like videos, graphics and podcasts. News sites pair their online content with mobile apps and real-time reporting through social media sites like Twitter.
And all this comes with a fee. Many newspapers have installed paywalls requiring payments for online and print access to their content. And most organizations who are not, are on the verge of doing so. Often certain payment plans give readers more content such as custom newsletters like Wall Street Journal’s Grapevine, which highlights original feature stories. Other news sites have become more niche, like Politico, which only cover U.S. and national politics and policies.
Where news gets its money has drastically changed as tech companies like Facebook and Google begin to monopolize ad space and sales. The New York Times reported in the past couple decades that their revenue shifted from being more than 60% advertising to more than 60% subscriber payments.
Despite these efforts, problems remain. At the WTSJ Lab we are looking to move beyond pure and theoretical research toward innovative application and implementation. We want creativity and analysis. We’ve all seen the data. The reality and current state of journalism is no secret. What we want to do is sift through that data and discover the trends and find the possibilities for innovation and adaptation.
In the lab, we will identify questions, topics and ideas that fit their discoveries as they investigate and research journalism and its consumers and creators. This isn’t a problem that only affects a small amount of people. It affects everyone — the public, journalists, publishers, editors, etc.
Our lab is made up of those who will eventually be working in the future of journalism — those who have a say in what happens, and care enough to make a difference. There are many solutions and options but the way to move forward is to put our heads together. Our student interns are supported and reinforced by academics, professionals and business leaders.
The lab allows these groups to work in tandem to find sustainable solutions like increasing communication between publishers, journalists and the public; transparency; public involvement; crowdsourcing; micro-subscriptions; and promoting the idea that good journalism is worth the price.
While seeking solutions, we will explore a wide range of questions we feel need answers. What drives readers to subscribe when it is purely optional? What is the power of a survey to engage readers? What are factors that convince people to pay? Why do people expect free news? Why did newspapers fail to innovate? What is the divide between journalism and advertising? Is it still news if we buy it in advance? We also believe that more transparency in the newspaper industry will help us find more answers to these questions and possibly lead to many more solutions.
We already know that journalism is changing, now we must find ways to change with it. We can’t fit the future of journalism into old containers. Change is hitting every industry and discipline. Politico, an American political journalism company, redesigned its website in 2018, creating a more mobile-friendly homepage and adding features that appealed to an audience unlikely to stick around for long. Partnering with several news outlets like CBS News and Yahoo! News, who co-report and distribute content, Politico has been able to keep an average of 26 million unique visitors per month in the U.S.
Change does not just affect the news media. In 2016, Walmart created its own payment app called Walmart Pay to “make shopping faster and easier,” says President and CEO of Walmart Global eCommerce Neil Ashe in an article on Future Stores. “Walmart Pay is the latest example … of how we are transforming the shopping experience by seamlessly connecting online, mobile and stores.”
Innovating and changing the traditional shopping experience, Walmart and other stores are now creating a way for customers to use their phones to scan their items to make shopping more quick and convenient than it could have been before by avoiding the potentially long checkout process.
Technology is pushing everyone to reevaluate their approach and tactics. Journalism is not alone in facing the need for change and needs to follow suit. If we don’t adapt and keep up, we will be left behind. Our future needs to be seriously accessed. To adequately do so, we must work together, using our resources in the WSTJ Lab, and open the door to innovative solutions and change, evaluate and uncover the barriers that have put us behind the curve.