Thursday, September 29, 2005
Newspapers' transformation in the new media landscape
"Fusion is only now coming to the newsroom, but the fusion has already taken place in the minds of the readers." Commenting on one of his most recent travails, the conversion of the Wall Street Journal's Asian and European editions to compact format, renowned newspaper designer Mario Garcia insists that newspapers need to integrate their online and print editions to suit the already changed habits of readers in a multimedia world. In this ever evolving world, "Some stories will lend themselves to a photo gallery, others will be told better through audio or video, and reporters will have to be clued into that...They will tell the stories in nine paragraphs for the newspaper and then in a multimedia format online," said Garcia.
Garcia's arguments are supported by The Middletown Media Studies II report as reported in Revolution Magazine. The study conducted by Ball State University Center for Media Design found that people spend nine hours a day with various media and a third of it using more two or more media at the same time. Television was by far the most popular medium but computer use continued to grow making it the second most used medium.
And with traditional media companies such as Viacom, TimeWarner and NewsCorps buying up Internet properties left and right, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, the percentage of computer use is certain to keep soaring over the next few years. The main drive for these companies' acquisitions has been the rocketing online advertising market whose sales grew 33% last year.
But alas, the Internet giants that survived the dotcom bubble burst are leagues ahead of conventional players when it comes to the world's fastest growing medium. Banc of America Securities is quoted in Forbes as declaring that Yahoo! and Google are "poised to be the biggest beneficiaries" of the booming online advertising which, according to The Guardian, is being fueled by search-based advertising which makes up about 40% of total online revenues. This market is also certain to continue blossoming as more advertisers realize the advantages of being able to track the effectiveness of their advertising through 'click' tallies.
This Internet advertising news does not bode well for the printed word. Although Banc of America predicts that "the shift to the Internet will be slow," much of the advertising dollars moving to the Internet are being taken from newspapers, not to mention classified ads. On the other hand, the investment services company sees newspaper online advertising revenue making up 10% of total newspaper advertising within the next two years, a significant increase from its current 3-4%. With this forecast, Mr. Garcia's newspaper 'fusion' model will have the necessary financial backing.
But perhaps the biggest threat to newspapers and other traditional media companies, although it will take some years to determine, is the quest for original content by Internet companies. Yahoo!, which to date has been merely an aggregator of other sources' news, is aggressively developing its own media wing, sending a journalist to create multimedia presentations in war zones and hiring up to 30 writers to produce original financial content. Many in the news industry scoff at this venture under the impression that a non-news player will never be able to compete with the quality journalism they produce.
The fact of the matter, however, is that Yahoo! has hired prominent journalists, those who have worked in print and television for years. As Internet advertising grows, Yahoo! and other Internet players will have even more money to spend on hiring star journalists. If print advertising begins to slump seriously, newspapers will have even less money to spend on their own reporting, already a problem highlighted by several major newspapers' newsroom job cuts last week.
Staff cuts, along with growing newspaper online advertising and threats from purely Internet companies further support Garcia's 'fusion' model. For years people have complained that newspaper websites are simply reproductions of their print editions and that newspapers should have innovated their coverage by taking advantage of the multimedia opportunities the Internet provides. Newspaper online sites were frequented because there was no other option, as noted by media expert Bob Cauthorn.
Now there are options, and more are certain to keep popping up. Although major papers are cutting staff which has been declared by some to be the beginning of the end, they are waking up to (although well past the dawn of) the Internet era in that they have not been cutting online journalists. Furthermore, many papers have begun joining their print and online staffs. This trend needs time to develop so that the two staffs learn how to work together and more newspaper journalists learn how to produce multimedia content for the Internet as Yahoo! has just begun to do.
Another key to the future success of newspapers, according to Garcia, is Internet linking. Instead of stubbornly protecting their brand, newspapers should link to other sources to allow the reader to dig deeper or to get another view. Newspaper readers are not just readers anymore. They want to experience a story on every level of media. Readers will always appreciate a well investigated and comprehensive article but in the new media world, they do not want to stop there. Garcia summed up his vision of this new media world by saying, "There will be survival of every medium, but survival will come by fusing the different mediums and by sending readers from one medium to another."
Newspapers will be with us long into the future, but the manner in which they function and in which they are consumed are bound to transform to fit the new media landscape.
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