With AI, the surge of retail media networks, and macroeconomic challenges, news media publishing is at a critical juncture. Does advertising still have a place in the news? Or should publishers find new ways to monetize? Publishing veteran and Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Professor Jeff Jarvis’ message for publishers: Don’t give up on advertising! 

Turned off by the incentives of digital advertising throughout the years, some publishers have turned to alternative monetization models, including locking content behind paywalls. But approaches like these, which limit readership, don’t just limit business growth. They also diminish the role the news plays in the public forum, Jarvis told Beeler.Tech CEO and founder Rob Beeler at Beeler.Tech’s Navigator conference in New York on Wednesday, May 1. 

That doesn’t mean that publishers should stick to the model of maximizing volume for volume’s sake —  best embodied, of course, by programmatic advertising. In Jarvis’ view, the industry’s sense of a “mass” that needs to be reached by “mass media” is outmoded. Today, “there’s no one-size-fits-all ‘mass.’” Instead, Jarvis said, “The challenge for us in news media is to see ourselves as members of communities.” 

For Jarvis, it’s up to the news media, then, to “refocus ourselves on service, authority, credibility, community, conversation” for unique sets of readers. As Rob Beeler put it, “Content for content’s sake doesn’t work.” The content needs to resonate with real readers, not just attract fleeting clicks. 

Examples of successful community-driven news Jarvis pointed to included Black media, Latino media, and diasporic media outfits. Rather than focusing solely on driving the largest number of impressions and clicks, these publishers are concentrating on building communities and providing them valuable services, whether it be via text messages, print, or major in-person events. In turn, those engaged communities facilitate sustainable media businesses.

But shifting the editorial focus on “mass media” is the easy part. The hard part will be developing the advertising models to match. To start, publishers should “think of themselves as digital brands, maybe even in the ecommerce vein: I have a product, I need to sell it,” Beeler said. 

Part of finding new business models, Jarvis suggested, will involve leveraging technology — which is often perceived by publishers as threatening to them — to transform advertising into a higher-value service for publishers. 

Jarvis contrasted the animosity between major publications like The New York Times and leading AI companies here in the US with that of the Norway publisher Verdens Gang’s approach to AI. At Verden Gang, the newsroom is looking for ways to partner with AI companies to find the value and benefits the emerging technology can provide to their readers.  

Innovating on publisher business models will take moving past the “entitlement” the news media feels about its content, as Jarvis put it. News outlets feel that they ought to be paid because they’re the news.

Moving forward, the news should “see ourselves in the service business,” Jarvis argued. Editorially, that will mean providing useful, high-quality, and credible information to individual communities. On the business side, it will be about helping readers buy what they want to buy.