The old business model of media organizations is broken: Dominic Ziegler

dominic ziegler


Dominic Ziegler is currently the Singapore bureau chief of The Economist and a columnist for Banyan. Based in Singapore, we cover the entire region, from Afghanistan to New Zealand.

During his nearly 40-year career with The Economist, he served as the paper’s China correspondent, Washington correspondent, Tokyo bureau chief and Asia editor. In 2015, he published his book, Black Dragon River.

This year, Ziegler came to Dhaka to participate in the recently concluded Dhaka Lit Fest. The Business Standard spoke with Ziegler about his illustrious career, press freedom, social his media and more.

What is the current state of press freedom around the world?

Well, we’ve been fighting for more press freedom all over the world. Things have gone backwards in some countries over the last few years. For example, the Philippines has seen attacks on the media.And in fact, Maria Ressa [co-founder and CEO of Rappler], was threatened by former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that her publication would be shut down. But she won the Nobel Prize and that helped her. In many places, we have seen press freedom set back.

But I am somewhat optimistic that things might turn around in some parts of the world simply because the dictators and populists who have ruled them are not doing well and are declining in popularity. Brazil’s populist president has not returned to power. And to me, it’s like a small gap of optimism in the opposite general environment of the field.

What about the economic viability of media organizations in the age of social media?

It’s incredibly difficult. The old model was to build a high readership and sell ads based on that high readership. That model is broken. It never comes back. At the same time, Internet readers have come to expect news to be free. Also, once the paywall is lowered, it is very difficult to get it back. Slowly, it’s happening. I think a lot more happens with trusted media agencies.Trust is really at the heart of these things.

In the age of fake news, people are ready to pay more to know that the news they are getting is honest and sincere. That’s one model. But also importantly, the news and analysis offering must have a philanthropic dimension. Not all media organizations make money, but charities and other organizations understand the value of having independence, unbiased news and coverage, and invest money to support it. I hope so.

When it comes to fake news and misinformation, how can we combat it?What should readers do, what should we journalists do??

How to tell fake news from real news is a little harder these days. I think it really depends on the reader. I’m glad people are turning to real media instead of turning to rumors and all social media being manipulated by state powers and such.

I think it’s a long term thing, but I hope there will be an attempt. As a social media user I understand that I need to be more discriminatory in what I read and be more careful about the sources of news and information. Now you can’t believe everything .

How do economists decide which articles to pursue? What is the process involved?

We need more time to really discuss this, but in short, we have editorial independence because the editors themselves weren’t chosen by the owners. She has editorial independence and gives us journalists editorial independence as well.

We work in a very collegiate and collaborative way. We work with thoroughness and complete integrity, and we have a separate department that checks our facts. Often times, our statements are fact-checked by others, and from there comes an insightful and informed report on the day’s central issue.

How does The Economist keep readers engaged in its magazine format despite not putting much effort into its graphics?

Graphics are important these days, and they are evolving in that area as well. Our subscribers can read us on physical paper, they can read us on their phone, or iPad on the web. provides it. We also offer weekly audio editions. But we’re doing a lot more, and we’ve invested a lot in data and graphics.

And it’s an integral part of how we tell stories, and often our stories are more about graphics and data and the representation of trends than words. Towards a new era, we are taking on all kinds of challenges and continuing to evolve. Much more needs to be done across many media dimensions, including podcasts and movies. We are also on TikTok. That doesn’t mean we all try to go viral by dancing in front of the camera. We often use data.

Even without graphics, you have readers. And the secret is the absolute honesty of what we do. Also, we are working together and have the resources to do so. Luckily we are profitable. We are a private organization and we make money.

And collaboration, as I say, is when we’re not just journalists, we work together not only between journalists, but also between data experts, production experts, or experts in other fields. means

And in the economist’s DNA is this debate culture. We are always debating and everyone can voice their opinion, whether you just joined the company that day or have been with us for 30+ years.


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