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News Business in US Faces Big Challenges

News Business in US Faces Big Challenges
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News Business in US Faces Big Challenges

The business of providing news and current affairs commentary in the United States is facing big challenges as the older audience diminishes and new digital services struggle to gain a foothold with younger people. The future of journalism may depend on the success of income diversification in media companies.

Newspaper readership is in a steep decline in the United States as younger people seek news on the Internet.

Newsweek magazine went exclusively digital in December 2012, but last month started printing again under its new owner, IBT Media.

But IBT’s director of audience engagement, Kate Gardiner, says the print magazine’s target audience is not young.

“Those people are going to be an older demographic, they are going to be wealthier, they are going to be much more engaged in international policy and economics and things like that, but our main users on social media are going to be much younger," said Gardiner.

Gardiner was one of the many news company representatives promoting digital online products at the recent South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas.

The Knight Foundation’s Michael Manness says digital journalism is still in a wild development stage.

“Anyone can publish, anyone can produce, anyone can have a voice in it, so it is a lot of noise right now," said Manness.

Younger people tend to grab news in short bursts, showing little patience for long format, in-depth stories.

Still, Maness thinks news organizations with serious content can win them.

“They may not go in depth, but they have a general sense of what is going on, so I think there is a real opportunity for news brands to build out depth, context and think about those new narratives in different ways," he said.

Some online news companies have found their niche by focusing on particular issues or news beats, often on a local or state level.

One of the most successful is the Texas Tribune, which covers public policy and politics in the state with funding that includes private donations and sideline business ventures.

This could be a model for other news sites, according to Jake Batsell, who works under a fellowship at the Texas Tribune. He spoke to VOA via Skype.

“You are basically trying to find five or six streams of revenue that almost operate as mini-businesses that collectively combine to generate enough revenue to keep you in business," said Batsell.

The Texas Tribune has won acclaim for its stories and is slowly building a statewide audience through what Batsell says is integrity based on financial diversity.

“If a donor were to try to exert influence and control the news content, they have more backing and more standing to go back to that person and say, ‘Here is your donation back'", he said.

Batsell says such news organizations keep a watchful eye on government, but their effectiveness ultimately relies on a large audience among the citizens whose interests they serve.