'BusinessWeek' economist provides upbeat forecast

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New York—Which industry is poised to be a leader rather than a laggard when the economy rebounds? Media.

That's the view of Michael Mandel, chief economist at BusinessWeek, who gave the luncheon keynote Wednesday at American Business Media's Executive Forum. “If I'm here two or three years from now, we could be talking about a media boom,” he said.

The media business is being transformed by Internet technology that dramatically lowers the cost of distribution compared with legacy print production and mailing. “In the long run, lower costs are good for any industry,” Mandel said.

In addition, he said, “There is a real need for information that will aid decision-making, especially in this economy.”

Mandel noted that his definition of “media” is not “the mere transmission of information into the ether. It's [quality] journalism.” Further, he said, the real opportunity is for journalism to be “integrated with something else,” such as social media, data or education.

The key to those integrated business models, he said, is that they “are not easily reproduced and require [expertise] and disciplined effort.”

As far as the overall economy, Mandel said last fall's financial crisis was a symptom of a larger problem. “We actually [have] had a very weak economy for the past nine years,” he said. Over that period, “we had a very weak stock market, weak real-wage growth, big trade deficits and soaring debt.”

The innovative companies that have traditionally fueled growth in the U.S. “failed us,” Mandel said. “IT companies shifted an enormous amount of production overseas” at a very early stage in the life cycle of cutting-edge products, he added.

“Those companies should have been generating a lot of advertising and marketing money [for media companies].”

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