The US Digital News Ecosystem: Players and Trends (II)

This second post focuses on the main elements of the ecosystem: the players and the general trends. The overview is the result of my readings and 25 interviews with scholars and professionals during my seven-week residence at CUNY. It highlights the basic concepts required to understand the current situation in the US journalism market.

Who is Who?

Since digitization arrived, the media system has transformed its structures and become an ecosystem, where interactions and collaboration are essential components. For academic purposes, it is important to identify who are the players in the news digital ecosystem, how the connections are made and what the relations are among the players. The objective in this is to identify what kind of companies rely on traditional patterns and which are the new ones in the current media landscape.

As a result of my analysis, I divide the players into six categories:

#1. Legacy news organizations: some organizations are leading the digital transformation, including the New York Times and The Washington Post. In parallel, other companies have created their own news startups. That is the case with Quartz, which belongs to the Atlantic; and media groups like Germany’s Springer, which acquired Business Insider.

#2. Tech companies with media brands: these are new companies with a technology core business, in which news is one of its media products. Good examples are Buzzfeed and Vox.

#3. Social media platforms are the new gatekeepers in the media ecosystem. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat have a strong interest in providing distribution for news and they are setting the rules. The reason: They’re more innovative than the media themselves.

The six categories of players in the new digital ecosystem

#4. Non-profit news companies: Though they were part of the old system, they have been growing in the new ecosystem. Institutions such as ProPublica and the Center for Investigative Journalism are playing a leading role in the digital landscape.

#5. Media Startups: These are early-stage companies providing new media contents. Good examples are Purple and Mic. From this level, they will grow up either to be acquired by a legacy media company or become members of the #2 category above.

#6. Technology startups providing services for digital media, whether community building like GroundSource and Hearken or micropayments in the case of Blendle.

There is interaction among all actors and collaboration stands as the common rule. Time and attention are the most valuable prizes. It is a vibrant market, where new outlets are emerging every other day. For example, one of the latest is the Outline, but at the same time others have faced significant difficulties (like Reported.ly). As is to be expected in this ecosystem, the key issue is survival.

Photo by Olu Eletu

Four Trends

In my analysis, I highlight four majors trends:

1# Diversity: The US is such a big market, with a wide variety of companies and products, which offers a catalogue of examples that can be useful for any other market. Platforms and distributed content set the rules. In this digital market, there is optimism, though still many uncertainties.

#2 Monetization: Advertising with its different modalities (native advertising, sponsored content, etc.) still is the main source of revenue. New streams for monetization (events, membership, data) are yet to be relevant. Experimentation is the way to find out.

#3 Audience engagement: It is the buzzword right now. No consensus on the definition depending on each media company. ‘Sharing content’ is the major measure for success. Facebook stands for the main role in this area.

# 4 Values: The role of media as a guarantee for democracy is the main axis. The transformation in journalism from product to service business is also a key issue. Though big figures (data & analytics) still matter, the quality of content is also becoming a concern.

Last but not least, how does one stay up to date about the US digital market? A variety of news sites provides a continuum of information. Sometimes it is overwhelming, so it’s important to make your choices. Here you have my list: Nieman Lab, Digiday, Monday Note, Techcrunch and Mediashift.

My next post will provide a selection of the best practices in the US News digital ecosystem.

Read the first post about the concepts learned during my summer residence at CUNY here.