Going niche, but at what cost?

By Jake Kreinberg

A Columbia University business professor says that media organizations have an incentive to focus more on marginalized topics so they can better retain their audiences, but doing so takes away important voices from democratic issues.

Editor’s note: We spoke with Miklos Sarvary, a professor of business at Columbia University, about his research on increased competition among media organizations and its potential consequences. To hear other perspectives from this series, click here.

Should news organizations find a niche?

Miklos: The media, especially the news media, has been extremely important for the infrastructure of democracy all together. There are a lot of things going on in the world, and for an effective political debate, you need to have a conversation about a certain set of finite topics.

The issue is that if consumers can switch very fast between different news media, there is going to be a lot of contest between media sites to be the go-to place for certain topics. You are trying to forecast what is going to be popular and make your bets on a few things.

But if there are a lot of participants in a contest, then suddenly you have an incentive not to go for the most popular things because you have a higher chance to be the go-to site for maybe a less-popular thing, which creates this crazy incentive that you might want to pick up topics that are actually marginal, that are not necessarily the more important ones. That makes it very difficult for society to focus on the important problems.

Jake Kreinberg

Jake is the text and multimedia product manager at The Associated Press and the former editor of Insights. He previously covered college sports as a reporter for AP and helped design its multi-year strategic plan. Have feedback about the blog? Contact us at insights@ap.org.

insights, strategy series 2015