It struck me, while reading an article about Al Jazeera trying to “win over millennials” by releasing a mobile app, that news orgs are essentially trying to put the genie back in the bottle when they create mobile apps. The lessons we’ve learned over the past decade is that news has become unbundled, that if I really like an outlet like Al Jazeera then I can subscribe to them on RSS, Facebook, Twitter, or any number of other social streams where I now receive my news. Al Jazeera wants to win over millennials by assuming they want to rebundle their content and return to a single-channel stream of content. I would be interested in seeing how many news orgs have had any real success (read: over a million downloads, or even 100,000) with releasing a mobile app.
Vice is privately held, so its financials are a matter of some speculation. The company is “expected to post revenue of $500 million this year,” according to one insider. How much of that is profit? We don’t know. But even if it was all profit, which it is not, a $28 billion valuation would give a public Vice Media a P/E ratio of 56. For a media company! (Most media companies would like investors to value them like tech companies. This does not mean they are not, in fact, media companies.) By comparison, Disney’s ratio is about 22; Time Warner’s is about 17; and the New York Times Co.’s is about 40 (which is also rather high).
The network — on both ends of the equation — is the problem. The journos of color and women aren’t networking with white dudes doing the hiring because it isn’t in their DNA. Call it the Twice as Hard Half as Good Paradox: Many of us are so busy working twice as hard and hoping to get noticed that we don’t do the networking that seems like bullshit but is actually a key part of career advancement.
Meanwhile, the white guys doing the hiring who, at least in my experience, are more self-aware than many people seem to think, are asking their non-white or female journalist friends for names of people to hire. But if we know those people, we’re often trying to hire them ourselves — and besides that, we don’t have some secret diverse pipeline of reporters we’ve been hiding. As one journalist of color put it to me, “Why don’t you get out there and find some of your own?”
I would never have launched FiveThirtyEight in 2008, and I would not have chosen to broaden its coverage so extensively now, unless I thought there were some need for it in the marketplace. Conventional news organizations on the whole are lacking in data journalism skills, in my view. Some of this is a matter of self-selection. Students who enter college with the intent to major in journalism or communications have above-average test scores in reading and writing, but below-average scores in mathematics. Furthermore, young people with strong math skills will normally have more alternatives to journalism when they embark upon their careers and may enter other fields.4
This is problematic. The news media, as much as it’s been maligned, still plays a central a role in disseminating knowledge. More than 80 percent of American adults spend at least some time with the news each day.