There is a dramatic revolution taking place in the news business today, and it isn't about TV-anchor changes, scandals at storied newspapers or embedded reporters. The future course of the news, including the basic assumptions about how we consume news and information and make decisions in a democratic society, is being altered by technology-savvy young people no longer wedded to traditional news outlets or even accessing news in traditional ways.
The future of the U.S. news industry is seriously threatened by the seemingly irrevocable move by young people away from traditional news sources.
It is an overwhelmingly challenging time in the worlds of cable television and broadcast news, as well as in print media. Young people are moving away not just from television news to the Internet but also from television in general. This makes it difficult for TV-marketing organizations to even reach the next generation of news consumers, since many have already abandoned TV for their computers.
Still, enterprising television executives do have a variety of new tools and distribution mechanisms at their disposal. Within the new NBC Universal family, for example, there is an abundance of opportunities with CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network, the Sci Fi Channel and Bravo.
Some news organizations have already made a promising start. Last summer, ABC News launched ABC News Now, a subscription-based news network designed to capture the desktop audience at work, at school or on the move. It will be available on broadband services, digital cable and wireless services. Nothing like it has ever been tried before in the U.S., and it clearly fills a void in the ABC News distribution plan.
Success in these areas is critical for the networks. “We would like to attract younger viewers,” says Bill Wheatley, recently promoted to executive VP of news for NBC. “We know advertisers will pay us more to reach them, and NBC has long been accepted as a network with appeal to younger people. But in news, the challenge is great. The trick is that we are a mass medium, and if we target young people too regularly and too narrowly, we will lose other parts of the audience. We may, though, come to a point where we will have to create programs just for younger viewers.”
That is very likely what it is going to take to change current trends for mainstream news organizations. They are going to have to program for the demographic if they are to retain consequential news franchises.
As Ted Turner changed the game at a much different moment in time with the invention of CNN, and as Apple changed another game by providing accessible music downloads, dramatic moves—accompanied by the simultaneous but deft, prudent tinkering of skilled print editors, television producers, and digital-media journalists and technologists—are unquestionably required.