In promoting his new film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” controversy-prone filmmaker Michael Moore made some interesting statements about the future of newspapers as a profitable business model. Moore claims they “slit their own throats” and attributes the struggles of the medium to corporate greed and stupidity.
Moore blames newspapers’ dependence on advertising sales as a main contributor to the greedy media culture, and he goes on to cite circulation-sponsored models like those in Europe and Japan as more democratic alternatives. He says because these models look to readers as their primary sources of revenue, the newspapers are forced to be more committed to producing high-quality, relevant content for readers.
From a historical perspective, the ad-sponsored model for newspapers stemmed from a democratic mindset. When small newsletters first began springing up around the colonies in the early 1700s, they were funded, of course, through reader purchases. Coming from fifteenth-century Britain, where newspapers were government sponsored and notoriously biased, America’s first journalists passionately held that a for-profit model would ensure a democratic, free press. But as these papers began to grow and evolve, they realized sales alone wouldn’t be able to support much expansion. Not wanting to turn newspapers over to government funding, the advertising-sponsored media model evolved as a revenue stream based on the desire to maintain an independent press.
So advertising was invoked with good intentions, but where does that leave us today? As Moore suggests, are newspapers a failed business experiment merely reaping what they sowed?
With media mogul Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of NewsCorp, recently putting his foot down on charging for newspapers’ online content, the industry may be at a crossroads. But for the now, the future of this storied, historic medium remains uncertain.
This post was written by Lauren McCarty