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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Financially modest ideas for saving the newspaper

Milking the newspaper cash cow until she runs dry, the business interests behind huge media corporations are simultaneously sharpening the butcher's knife for her slaughter. Although circulation is declining which, along with rising prices, will eventually cause advertisers to start pulling out, media moguls are reveling in incredible profits, too blindly drunk in their financial success to plan for the future. Some sober journalism specialists have several ideas on how to reverse the process.

Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of North Carolina, Philip Meyer sees a noble journalistic cycle that will eventually lead to profits. In "Saving Journalism," his article on Columbia Journalism Review, he describes how quality journalism attracts readers and advertisers. Papers that emphasize credibility, accuracy, easy reading, and an excellent staff fare better than those who don't. By not providing these four points, Meyer says that papers will undermine their business models.

Grassroots journalism champion Dan Gillmor is working on ways to involve the audience in the news process. He feels that people will pay for quality journalism but that young readers are changing everything, thus requiring those in journalism "to innovate on new forms and delivery mechanisms as well as the journalism itself."

Jay Rosen, journalism professor at New York University, says on PressThink "Getting newspaper journalism across the divide means a big investment now in the Net and its emerging forms." He calls for research and development and the retraining of newsroom staffs.

These sound like good and logical ideas. But are media companies heeding their advice? An article in American Journalism Review suggests that The Washington Post is trying to reverse its circulation decline along the lines of Meyer's suggestions. Its editors feel that the Post has always provided quality news which has helped it establish a sound advertising base, but that the paper was too "fluffy," meaning its articles dragged on to the frustration of the reader. The article reports that the Post is "trying to create a more compelling and accessible paper," with shorter articles and more appealing pictures and graphics as well as revamping the front page. However, this sounds suspiciously like a format change that will eventually change the quality of journalism and cause a loss of advertisers.

Apart from several papers in the US and Korea's OhMyNews marvel, citizens journalism is being ignored by large national papers. Sure, they've established blogs and provided methods of reacting to articles, but have newspapers really embraced these tools? It seems that they are simply there. How often do columnists refer to their reader comments, use information provided by their readers, or even read reader responses? On the other hand, although blogs and other citizens journalism tools are becoming more popular as a source of information, Gillmor rejects the idea that they have the legitimacy to replace traditional journalism. But as their popularity grows and their influence becomes more noted, newspapers will have to find better ways of really including readers, turning the news into the conversation that Gillmor foresees.

As for websites, it is generally agreed that newspapers have poorly adapted themselves to the net (see former posting). Rosen is especially appalled, not only at this fact, but the fact that newspaper companies are cutting their online budgets even as online advertising is booming and millions are shunning print to read their news on the Internet. Instead of simply republishing their printed news online, papers need to find innovative ways to diversify their products, capitalizing on the capabilities the Net offers.

Obviously all of these ideas, along with the fact that advertisers remain hesitant about online advertising, will result in immediate profit loss. But advertisers are starting to catch on and internet advertising is increasing significantly and classified ads are already dominated by the Internet. Media moguls must be weaned off of the cash cow and buck up and invest in online development if they are to survive. By doing this, the profits will eventually come rolling back in.

Sources: Dan Gillmor, Columbia Journalism Review, PressThink, American Journalism Review

Posted by john burke on March 31, 2005 at 02:28 PM in c. Multimedia convergence, h. Young readers / New readers, n. Online strategies, q. Regional and ethnic newspapers, r. Revenues and business models | Permalink

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Comments

The reason people get a newspaper is this: it doesn't require a literal worldwide search to find what you're looking for, and when you do find it, it's in your neighborhood or about your neighbors. That is something the Web doesn't do well today, and it isn't likely to do it well tomorrow. A Google search might turn up 1000 choices for you to sift through while a stroll to the front yard grass gets you going in print. Are the bloggers covering the City Council? A big fat NO. Are we going paperless? Look around yourself, at what you print from the internet. We're drowning in paper. Newspapers aren't dead yet.

Posted by: Marc at Apr 6, 2005 4:09:57 PM

"...The Washington Post is trying to reverse its circulation decline along the lines of Meyer's ["...emphasize credibility, ...excellent staff..."] suggestions...."

If the Post's excellent staff had the intestinal fortitude to sign their editorials, this would foster credibility. Anonymity precludes accountability, which limits credibility.

Posted by: Anna at Apr 1, 2005 6:04:07 AM

As newspapers continue to squeeze the goose laying golden eggs (http://slate.msn.com/id/2115253/) they'll continue to create opportunities for independent classified sites like ours to thrive. But the goose is going to finally get cooked. One morning these publishers will wake up and realize that there's no longer any reason anyone should have to pay to sell a lawnmower.

Posted by: Michael Warren at Mar 31, 2005 4:24:54 PM