High journalism and low journalism

Historically, high journalism has largely been subsidized by low journalism. In modern times, however, the two are increasingly decoupled, largely because we can get the latter online in unlimited quantities, and people are willing to pay for the former.  While high journalism outlets are attempting to exist on their own through the use of paywalls or events businesses (in addition to various forms of advertising) around traditionally "high" content, low form companies like Buzzfeed and Gawker are moving into long-form and hard news articles.* Indeed, “viral news has been co-opted by advertisers, pranksters, political operatives and others looking to sell something” forcing these media agencies to evolve their offering.

Consider Buzzfeed, a website dealing with "low" forms of news.  It is a product designed for a new set of client who want to target a specific user- the bored at work crowd. It is responsive to its customers and focuses on R&D, and has shown remarkable innovation in its use of analytics, community and monetisation. The company’s focus on mobile only, as compared to “digital” is a forward looking response to current media trends. Now, the company’s ability to harness virality into revenue has allowed it to expand its content (including video and hard news content) and develop its business based on a committed user base. They have managed to become a news source to readers. 

But, if young, innovative firms gain the high journalism market, legacy organisations may not survive. Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation suggests established firms fail not because they are unable to keep up, but because they are unable to pursue these innovations when they arise. And indeed, it is this newer convergence that legacy institutions seem unable to adapt to. The business environment makes them unable to dedicate resources to the new innovation, either because they feel unable to take resources away from a sustaining innovation (paywall, being one of them), or the company bureaucracy/identity does not allow for it.

Firms who succeed typically bring unique departments within their organisations that do this. And certainly, a number of organisations are looking at building these more innovative sites. The Trinity Mirror created UsVsTh3m, the Daily Mirror launched Ampp3d, and the Atlantic has Quartz. But, will these converged forms be enough? The next wave of development will now depend at how these will be brought into the legacy organisation, and whether they are able to act on this convergence/decoupling paradigm. 

*By high Journalism, I mean strong news reporting and investigation pieces (think Pulitzer). In this context, low journalism means diarists and parodists  (think The Onion, The Daily Show, Colbert, etc).