The Decline of General Interest News And The Rise of Niche

March 8, 2013

If you ask a news writer about what they do, they’ll tell you that they inform the world about important things they should know about. From that perspective, which is the common one, news publications are purchased by readers so they can learn something.

But this video of a Clayton Christensen talk about figuring out what job we “hire” products to do is revealing. Watch it. It’s only four and a half minutes.

Now consider news products: If you’re older than 30 and you ride public transportation, you probably remember a time when you had to move a newspaper off your seat to sit down. How often does that happen now? The reason is that newspapers and magazines are no longer “hired” to fill idle time. Games and long-form reading on digital devices have now taken that place.

Newspapers have been whacked hard, but print magazines, mostly produced to fill idle time, have been especially hard hit.

Anyone creating or managing a news publication now has to ask the question: What job does my news publication do? It’s not enough to say, “Inform!” since news consumers today are inundated with choices.

Make a mental list of what’s in your daily news diet. Ten sites? Now include blogs. Twenty?

Almost nine years ago Chris Anderson postulated that the Long Tail would mean a media future swamped by a zillion niche markets. That future is here.

The chart above shows the relentless power of Anderson’s Long Tail theory. That truth, along with the brutal questions forced by Christensen’s “Job To Do” lecture force anyone interested in news to ask, what future do general interest news publications have?

Three new sites that have shown tremendous readership growth, Grantland, The Verge and Buzzfeed, have two things in common: niche focus and long-form writing. Grantland has in-depth sports and pop culture writing, the Verge has in-depth technology news, reviews and “geek lifestyle” while Buzzfeed started as an “I can haz cheezburger” copy to include to medium-form (interesting-but-not-too-deep) stories in politics, entertainment and technology.


Grandland and The Verge both launched in 2011, while Buzzfeed chugged along for a couple years before hitting on their winning formula of linkbait and longer form articles.

It’s too early to say since all three sites are still in their growth phase, but it is clear that niche news and long-form writing is a power combination, enough so that totally new brands can break through the clutter in a big way.

The polar opposite of general interest news.