Journalism funding continues to rely on familiar channels

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand


While journalism funding is evolving and innovation is taking place in media organisations, the bulk of funding continues to come from familiar sources.

I guess this is not a surprise to anyone in the news publishing industry.

The latest Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2024 report, written by Nic Newman, shows that subscriptions, display, and native advertising continue to be the most important revenue sources for news publishers, followed by events, e-commerce, and platform funding.

Newman notes that, while many publishers gained subscriptions last year, “in many cases, revenue from digital has not been enough to make up for the decline in print and advertising revenue.” Worryingly, digital growth “is stagnating” and advertising revenues are dropping.

The latest results from The New York Times show that, in the last quarter of 2023, its advertising revenue fell 8.4% to US$164 million, and the company is expecting “further declines in the first three months of this year.”

Similarly, in a special issue published in the Media and Communication journal, I argue with fellow academic James Meese from RMIT (Australia) that, while new funding models in journalism are emerging — including platform payments — “a major leap forward” is still lacking. We suggest “journalism funding models have evolved slowly over the last decade, and innovations have largely occurred at the margins.”

In their paper, Hsiang Iris Chyi and Sun Ho Jeong investigated engagement, circulation, readership, pricing, advertising, and subscription revenues of print and digital newspapers. They found print products outperformed digital offerings “by a wide margin.”

Furthermore, in Spain, of 2,862 media outlets included in the study sample, only 12% of the media companies had “incorporated some form of e-commerce” into their revenue mix.

On the other hand, research conducted in the German media market shows “bundling digital journalism has the potential to raise publisher revenues and subscription sales in digital markets.” The researchers argue “a comprehensive, cross-publisher bundled offer, available at a fixed monthly rate, has the potential to stimulate digital journalism sales.”

Newman’s report also suggests bundles are the way to go forward. He cites The New York Times’ chief financial officer, Will Bardeen, who notes “bundled subscribers retain and monetise better than news-only subscribers’ and The Times has an aim to get 50% of its 10 million subscribers to take up the offer.”

When it comes to platform funding, two articles in our special issue highlight the positives and negatives, depending on platform companies’ money. The studies find that, for some digital native media companies, platform funding has helped to build audience reach and newsroom resources, but the longevity of this funding model is questionable. This is an aspect I also highlight in my book.

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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