Leaders From Air America, FT Say Future Of Media Is A World Of Niches

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From left: Dezenhall, Klein, Edgecliff-Johnson, Heyward and Zier talk the future of media

Another day, another panel talking about why the media is in crisis and what can be done to fix it.

Today’s panel at the Samsung Experience in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle hosted by Gotham Media Ventures — called “Media in Crisis: Is There A Way Out? — brought us no closer to a solution, but was more focused on particular problems and solutions than some of the other panels we have been to recently.

Moderated by Eric Dezenhall, founder of crisis management firm Dezenhall Resources, the panel included Financial Times Media Editor Andrew Edgecliff-Johnson, Newspaper National Network CEO Jason Klein, Air America CEO Bennett Zier and Andrew Heyward, senior advisor at MarketSpace LLC and former president of CBS News.

The panelists focused in on the main problems that are plaguing journalism today: the changing advertising market, media bias versus niche markets and rapidly changing technology.

Bias and emerging niche markets particularly fascinated the panelists, who all agreed that there is a future for niche publications — although they mourned the loss of unbiased news coverage and local reporting of large local newspapers.

“News has become a spectator sport,” Zier said, noting that every outlet strives to be the “est” — as in “youngest, oldest, blackest, hippest.” And that’s not a bad thing. “There is so much noise right now, you absolutely have to differentiate yourself,” he added.

But what is to become of unbiased news?

“Straight ahead news will become a niche itself,” Heyward predicted.

“As things fragment, you do create a niche down the middle,” Edgecliff-Johnson agreed.

“The core of journalism is unbiased news coverage,” Klein countered. “The crisis in journalism in America is that that core is shrinking.” Klein blamed shrinking ad revenue, disappearing budgets and massive staff cuts for the decline, especially at the local newspaper level.

Edgecliff-Johnson suggested that local papers could potentially fund more local and investigative reporting if they spent less money on coverage like that of Michael Jackson’s death. He suggested that more local papers should their national, international and financial news from the pools and wire services like Reuters and the Associated Press while diverting reporters and resources to more local and specialized things.

The panelists also discussed bundling different types of content for readers to purchase, decrying many news organization’s decisions to give iPhone apps away for free. They also saw hope in events as additional revenue streams for news orgs.

“Media organizations are partly a collection of individual brands,” Edgecliff-Johnson said. “They need to understand how to create those sub-brands and manage them and give readers access.”