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Will We Ever Find the Middle in News Reporting?

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Learn more about online news media trends at Streaming Media East Connect 2021.

Read the complete transcript of this clip:

Jonathan Hurd: Tony, you had brought up earlier that you try to take a non-partisan approach to the news, but clearly we're in an environment where there's extremism in media and different news outlets trying to appeal to segments that might be at polar opposites of beliefs. Will we ever find the middle in outlets for media reporting again? We found it with Tony, but I'm curious more broadly. How do you all see news reporting in terms of extremism versus kind of more down the middle?

Tony Brown: I should say that I don't know if we'll ever find that return to the middle, but I sure hope so, because we're putting a lot of our, our brand equity into it, and our focus on it. But I do think that we're seeing some trends in the industry toward people who are searching for something that's a little less partisan than what we see today. Some of that is anecdotal evidence that we get from feedback from viewers and from our own studies that we've done in the market. But you can also look at the fact that CNN is beating Fox News--CNN and MSNBC. Although you could argue that they're also part of the partisan gang of cable television news, but they're beating Fox News again for the very first time in many, many years. So are we seeing a swing back? Are we seeing some stratification on certain ends of the spectrum? Hard to say, but I do think that there's quite a bit of white space there, and we're starting to see movement from various news organizations back toward what I would consider that middle.

Sara Fischer: I think there's always going to be a bias towards wherever you make your money. And so going back to that New York Times example, they're going to be biased, because most of their subscribers are left-leaning, toward providing content potentially that meets that demand, which is why they've invested in some more progressive opinion coverage. But it also works the other way around: If you're really dependent on Facebook for traffic as was the case with many publishers, you pattern your coverage to their algorithm, which often rewarded outrage shock and emotional content. So you saw a lot of headlines around obituaries and news of the day that was shocking. Now we're in a situation where people are starting to wonder, "Is there a way we can create a business model for publishers where they're not economically incentivized towards one political view?"

One thing that a lot of publishers are starting to consider is becoming a 501(c)(4), being a nonprofit. You saw yesterday that Alden Global Capital, which is a hedge fund based in Manhattan, acquire Tribune Company, which is the parent company to many major newspapers in the U.S., including the Chicago Tribune and others. As a part of the agreement, they agreed to spin out the Baltimore Sun as a nonprofit. The Salt Lake Tribune has recently gone nonprofit, as did a bunch of New Jersey local papers last week. This is a model I have a lot of excitement about because when the profit does not need to be a multiple of revenue--as it's demanded by venture-backed media companies--you have the freedom to focus a little bit less on pandering coverage, to what can drive more revenue and just quite honestly focus on community.

Now, I don't think that's the right fit for everybody. You need innovation in news. So it's not the one-size-fits-all solution, but I think it's a really strong solution for a lot of big publishers that are trying to figure out what's the next step--especially ones at the local level.

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