Stop The Presses!

The NYT published an article about the death of print this week.  It seems as if the concept of a printless media company is finally sinking in for journalists and media executives.  According to the article, “In 2009 and 2010, all the two-newspaper markets will become one-newspaper markets, and you will start to see one-newspaper markets become no-newspaper markets,” said Mike Simonton, a senior director at Flitch Ratings, who analyzes the industry.”  Yes, there will eventually be no printed newspapers.  I’m not sure why this is such a hard concept for people to believe.  With the development of new technologies, outdated processes cease to exist.  Isn’t that the point of innovation?  To develop easier and faster ways of doing things?

The dwindling support and decreasing viewership of local news was heavily discussed while I was a student majoring in Broadcast News at the University of Georgia in 2005.  

(I’m on the far left. Nice shoulder pads, right?) Professors and guest speakers warned us this was coming.  But, I don’t think any of us believed it would happen so soon.  We should have!  Nearly all newspapers have experienced a decrease in paid circulation since 1990.

It will be challenging for traditional print newspapers to survive online.  It’s an unknown frontier for an industry so entrenched in tradition.  First, they’ll learn to operate on a much smaller scale.  I imagine there will little to no fat left very soon (if that’s not the case already).  No longer will reporters be allowed to scour over their articles until deadline.  There are no deadlines in the real-time sharing culture of online publications.  The deadline is always now!  But, for the traditional newspapers that survive in an online platform, their reporters will learn to adapt.

It’s more pressing for newspapers to solidify is a revenue model.  Sure, there are already standards in place regarding online advertising.  But the outlook for a revenue model based on banner ads is about as great as the outlook for me going completely vegan (I just can’t get off the cheese. Who can turn down nachos?).  The Association of Online Publishers recently released a study claiming only 12% of visitors pay attention to online ads.  Advertisers might have already picked up on this.  Display ad revenue is plummeting.  But this is probably a side-effect of the crappy economy as well. Some papers are turning to the Yahoo Consortium to boost their website traffic and ad sales. Targeted headlines linking back to newspapers’ websites are broadcast across Yahoo properties.  The Boston Globe and the St. Petersburg Times joined the consortium this week, bringing the total number of newspapers in the Yahoo Consortium to around 800.  These papers will get a short-term relief by joining the consortium, but it will by no means save their businesses.

What about a paid subscription based revenue model?  Would you spend some of your hard earned dollars for a local news portal?  I sure won’t.  Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?  There will always be free sources of news on the web including localized blogs.  However, in my opinion, people (Gen Y at least) are less concerned with local news and pay more attention to national news.  My friends rarely talk about local politics in Atlanta, but we surely discuss the going ons of the White House.  And, I just can’t see the big networks demanding a subscription fee for their articles.  I doubt paid subscription models will become the industry standard for online content.

So in times like these, what are print media companies to do?  Bottom line, give your audience something worth paying for, it’s your only chance for survival.  Embrace the change.  Don’t cling to tradition.  Dig in your heels and utilize the technologies that are diving print media out of business.  My advice would be to throw more dollars into the design and promotion of your online properties and cut the fat in the newsroom.

However, I honestly feel that there’s nothing that can save the newspaper business.  Mark my words, this will happen in other journalistic arenas as well.  Local television and radio will have similar fates.  I believe in the very near future, journalists will just be journalists.  There will be no specialization in print, television and radio journalism.  Yes, journalists are all trained differently in regards to their specific media.  Broadcast Journalists are taught to focus on the visual parts of the story.  I can still hear my professor shouting, “Show me something!” in the newsroom.  Journalists ensure their spots on the radio are filled with audio clips and natural sound that usher the listener to heart of the story.  And print journalists must rely on their diction to convey the facts without the help of video or audio. Current journalists need to train themselves in all media.  The ones that will survive will be the ones that can think outside of the box and produce written, video and audio pieces that will prove interesting to web audiences.  Focus on delivering more real-time coverage.  Instead of publishing the minutes from last night’s City Counsel meeting tomorrow morning, stream it.  Journalists should be prepared to work longer, harder shifts and cover more beats.  Prove you’re capable of producing web-based content or…. ditch the shrinking industry, dust off your resume and pick a new career.  It’s not too hard, I did it!  And the grass is much greener.

Thomas Delorme
Written by Thomas Delorme

VP, Digital Products & Strategy

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