Trend Analysis: As Newsrooms Shrink, Indie Media Booms

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We’ve been following the trend of news outlets eliminating staff positions since 2020, when more than 16,000 journalists lost their jobs. In 2022, newsroom cuts remained top of mind. News outlets don’t seem to be adjusting to the new normal like they might have over the past four years, and journalism jobs are continuing to hit the cutting room floor. This has allowed other information sources to fill the vacuum in their absence, like indie media — and fake news.

2024 Layoffs … So Far

In January of this year alone, more than 500 journalists were laid off from major news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, popular online publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider, news startups like The Messenger (which closed up shop entirely), and local outlets like the LA Times and the Washington Post. Even Pitchfork, a trailblazer of music journalism, was absorbed into the GQ brand and saw significant layoffs. 

Tech journalist Ian Sherr shares a brief roundup of media industry layoffs, strikes,
and shutdowns in January 2024.

In February, The Intercept, NPR’s DC affiliate DCist, and CBS News also implemented staffing reductions, while Vice Media announced it was shutting down and laying off hundreds of employees. We’re early into March, but the trend doesn’t show signs of slowing.

Indie Media Takes Over

With a market in continuous turmoil, many journalists hit by layoffs have been forced to join the niche and independent media landscape. For example, former TechCrunch managing editor Darrell Etherington announced a new newsletter focused on tech news, and TechCrunch digital culture reporter Morgan Sung launched a newsletter about the internet — both hosted on popular newsletter platform Substack.

Journalists Darrell Etherington and Morgan Sung announce their independent publishing projects after being hit by layoffs at TechCrunch. 

The niche media landscape has been growing over the past few years, both from former reporters creating independent content and non-traditional journalists entering the market. Platforms like Substack lower the barrier to entry, allowing individuals from various backgrounds to jump into news and help indie media grow. They also allow these creators the opportunity to reach their audiences directly. Over the past year, Substack gained more than one million new paying subscribers, bringing the platform’s paying audience to a total of three million

Comparatively, the New York Times has 9.7 million digital subscribers, so Substack has a ways to go to catch up to the news publishing titan. But traditional media is starting to see niche news as legitimate competition — so much so that the New York Times is creating an entire beat to report on “non-traditional media organizations, including those behind newsletters, podcasts and new video formats.”

No Trust in News

The growth of the independent media market offers journalists a chance to report on their own terms, without answering to any publisher agendas or metrics-hungry hedge funds. But it’s also created a fragmented landscape that makes it harder for consumers to find news they can trust and for brands to connect with qualified journalists who can help tell their story. According to this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, only 39% of Americans say they trust the media, and media is the least trusted institution globally, compared to governments, NGOs, and businesses. 

Slim newsrooms force journalists to cover more beats, often outside of their subject matter expertise, with less time and fewer resources — and the quality of traditional news is suffering as a result. But niche and independent media are often difficult to locate for those not already in the know. This has left room for bad actors to enter the field, including malicious fake news creators spreading AI-manipulated media and false stories.

Navigating Complicated Waters

As newsrooms continue to shrink and the market further splinters, the onus is on brands engaging with media to operate with precision. Would a niche media outlet more effectively reach your target audience than a traditional publication? Which reporters have experience in your sector to effectively tell your story? Are you reaching out to legitimate news sources? Brands must carefully navigate an increasingly complex media landscape to effectively reach the audiences that matter most to them.

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