The Bottom Line.

Author:DeRienzo, Matt
Position:Industry insight - Editors

What's a journalist worth? Finding the answer could help sustain local news

What a helpless feeling it is when editors "do their part" for the financial health of the news business by eliminating journalism jobs. Revenue drops, newsroom expenses are cut. Rinse, repeat.

Who really knows what those positions and people were worth to the business? Or how much their loss will hamper future revenue growth, feeding the cycle?

And because it's such an inexact science, there is rarely opportunity, on the flip side, for an editor to make the case that adding a new reporting or editing position will help grow the business in any kind of tangible way.

In contrast, a publisher wouldn't hesitate to expand her advertising sales staff, having confidence that the average rep position brings in a certain amount of revenue. If the person in the job falls short, you can replace them with someone who gets better results, or eventually determine that you've reached the ceiling on number of positions.

What if you could attach similar metrics to newsroom jobs? It could be a powerful argument against short-sighted cuts to local journalism, supported by data. It could be a blueprint for entrepreneurship around what editorial investment could do to expand and unlock new revenue streams. Maybe we could start growing again.

It could also be a double-edged sword, and the tension around such talk isn't new.

If the exact financial worth of a reporter, editor or photographer is calculated, whither journalism that's of great importance to defending the powerless, the penniless, and democracy itself? What if those stories have only indirect or insignificant impact on the bottom line?

News organizations' push into the digital subscription business has put more attention than ever on reporter-level and story-level metrics.

And there's no question that editors are in an uneasy position. Live by those metrics, making a business case for investing in the newsroom, but also die by them. In this world, how do you defend work that has no tangible impact on revenue?

Publishers could end up viewing local journalism in three major buckets: content that drives subscriptions; content that drives page view-based advertising; and content that drives context-based advertising (an arts and entertainment vertical, for example, or special section on real estate).

The first category gives editors the most leeway. Investigative and accountability reporting...

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