Specialized journalism will win

The Internet has taught old media plenty of lessons, but none more significant than this:  “News as the product of mass production no longer seems sustainable now that it is feasible to create content for an audience of one.”

So writes Phil Meyer, whose book “The Vanishing Newspaper,” seems ever more prescient on a day when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is publishing its last print edition.  In a tour-de-force summary of 100 years of journalism history in the March edition of SPJ’s Quill, Meyer notes that specialization has been the key to success for magazines, and suggests it may be the answer for newspapers, as well.

Sports and business sections will be broken out and sold separately, like chicken parts at the grocery store. That will make print advertising a more efficient buy than it has been because the advertiser won’t have to pay for newsprint that goes unread. Community newspapers, specialized by definition, will continue to do realtively well.

The chicken parts analogy echoes one of the recommendations in this year’s State of the Media report on future business models for the news industry:

Develop subscription-based niche products for elite professional audiences. These are more than subject-specific micro-sites. They are deep, detailed, up-to-the-minute online resources aimed at professional interests, and they are a proven and highly profitable growth area in journalism.

What this means for journalists is that they, too, must learn to be specialists. As Meyer points out, the old maxim, “A good reporter is good anywhere” no longer applies in a targeted media world.