City AM turns commercial news model upside down

Broadsheet newspaper

Was there ever a divide between editorial and commercial content? That’s the thought that came into my head as I read earlier this week that City AM is “turning the commercial model [of news] upside down on its head”,

The more sceptical of the approach, such as The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade, have reiterated the loss-making nature of the paper, suggesting a radical change was necessary to fix the broken business model. This seems pretty harsh as the entire media industry has struggled to make their business models profitable, particularly The Guardian that has the third highest global readership in English but is still facing financial crisis.

City AM’s approach of allowing certain organisations (for a price) direct access to their publishing platform, judging the value of their content by readership figures, surely makes sense? If a columnist at a newspaper can’t win over any readers then they’re out of a job. As Yardley has mentioned, organisations have access to subject-matter experts; possessing a body of knowledge much higher than the average journalists. This is valuable and signifies that news needs to be more varied and open.

City AM’s decision at its best will lead to high quality content from experts. However, the newspaper could risk its reputation if an onslaught of shameless advertorial tat ensues.

Yet again, if the content produced by brands isn’t engaging enough then readership will be down for them, rendering their partnership with City AM worthless. So the onus is now on organisations to produce journalistic content that can navigate issues with credibility.

As mentioned in The Drum,

“… says that the strategy is possible because the City AM audience is open to “thought leadership”. He is surprisingly confident that if ad clients abuse the system, the readers will blame the authors of the misinformation, not the newspaper. “The anger, disappointment and negativity will not feature on the brand of City AM.”

In my view this is the only part of City AM’s approach that makes alarm bells ring in my head. It shows a surprising amount of confidence in City AM’s readers as it’s often difficult to determine the originator of content these days. If an article has ‘advertorial’ slapped on it then I personally tend to skip the article. So understanding how City AM’s readers react to the change will be interesting and could pave the way for other publications in the industry.

However, with my professional interests aside working in PR, I do praise this decision by City AM. It’s brave, and in many ways the only option to develop a media business considering the close ties all journalists already have with sourcing news from PR professionals and brands. What City AM have done is displace the middle-man; whether brands and organisations can be trusted to adhere to journalistic news values – well, that’s another matter.