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Should the industry stop defining itself by the print product? (Long)

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by 2muchcoffeeman, Feb 26, 2008.

  1. 2muchcoffeeman

    2muchcoffeeman Active Member

    An interesting question brought up in a blog entry I was looking at tonight (which I found while Googling something else entirely), so it's time to open a can of worms.

    When I was still in the newspaper business, I was involved in a seemingly-endless series of management meetings with the focus of "bringing younger readers back to newspapers." And that was all it was about, an hour at a time.

    Don't talk down to them. Target kids with content they actually like --- video game reviews, albums, web sites, what-have-you, but put it all in print. The obvious answer was the one nobody wanted to bring up, because we knew the publisher would hold it against us later: Reach them where they are. They're not here. They're online.

    Whenever I brought up moving more content online (and finding ways to improve our revenue from that area), I was rebuffed: "We are a newspaper, we sell newspapers and we need to find a way to bring people back to our core product: newspapers."

    There lies the problem. A decade ago, the business types who actually call the shots in the newspaper industry were faced with the problem of the Internet, but rather than take a serious look at it they seem to have adopted the mindset that "We survived newsreels, we survived radio news, we survived network TV news, we survived CNN and by golly, we're going to survive the Internet."

    And now we know the truth: No, we aren't.

    There's something we as journalists, current and former alike, understand but that people outside the industry don't. There are two very different types of people dominant in the newspaper industry. We have journalists — reporters, copy editors, city desk editors, photographers, columnists, and so on — who produce the content from the first phone call to the point of getting it ready for final production. On the other side of the Chinese wall, we have the salesmen responsible for selling the product — ad reps, general managers and publishers.

    The journalists (save the really old-timers who won't give up their old manual Smith-Coronas until somebody pries the S-C from their cold, dead fingers) could handle about any production cycle thrown at them. Unfortunately, the journalists are being tripped up by the salesmen.

    The salesmen are wedded not so much to the paper product, but instead to the enormous revenue that paper product has traditionally produced. When faced with a potentially fatal threat to that revenue, they have panicked and now they're in the product of burning down the village in order to save the village: massive layoffs and buyouts, cutbacks in coverage, firing the delivery people and letting the U.S. Postal Service deliver the papers, budget cuts and so forth.

    When we talk amongst ourselves here about this, the frequent question is "What is the future of the newspaper industry?" I have another question: Should that be the question? If the daily newspaper has become obsolete, as we seem to think it has, then perhaps it's time to stop defining ourselves as newspaper organizations. It doesn't make any sense to define ourselves by a potentially-obsolete product.

    Instead of asking ourselves what newspapers will look like in the future, should we drop that topic entirely? Shouldn't we be asking ourselves what our online product will look like instead?

    What can we as journalists do to convince the salesmen that they need to divorce themselves from the print product? This brings to mind something I asked on another thread; at the time, I slugged my question as rhetorical but no longer. How much of the available revenue stream is print eating up? Rolls of newsprint, vats of CMYK inks, printing presses and maintenance, wages for the press operators ... what percentage of print's revenue is being gobbled up by print's attendant expenses?
  2. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    You're wrong to blame the salesmen. If they thought they could sell their advertisers on the Web site, they'd be all over it, especially those who make a large portion of their income from commission. And the one who figures out how to do it will find no shortage of bidders for his or her services.

    Consider this: Readers may not be the only ones who believe Internet content ought to be free or close to it. Advertisers are not going to pay anything near dead-tree rates for a banner on the Web site.
  3. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    That, and this too:

    Who among us goes to great lengths to avoid online ads? Maybe installing Firefox's Ad Blocker Plus isn't "great lengths," but I guarantee you there's no shortage of online users who do this. How ARE advertisers supposed to make money on the Internet, when so many people don't want to see their ads?
  4. 2muchcoffeeman

    2muchcoffeeman Active Member

    Been thinking about those points, and here's a thought: Why just sell banner ads, or miniature ads, or what-have-you?

    The newspap- ... eh, damn, there I go. :D The online news organization is not going to be a newspaper, although it's certainly going to fulfill some of the roles a newspaper has traditionally filled. But instead of big giant printing presses, it's going to have servers. Lots of servers. Rooms just full of them.


    Instead of just selling ads, sell hosting services. "Not only can you put your ad on our website, you can direct it to your website, which we can set up and run for you at the price of $____.__ for a year. And if you want to have an Internet storefront, we can do that for you, too."

    The true online news agency is going to have lots of server farms. Assuming they have the extra space, why not sell the use of the space?
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 15, 2014
  5. Metin Eniste

    Metin Eniste Member

    Expense reduction will be one of the major benefits of the dead tree version's demise. We're not going to replace a costly press with a costly server farm; companies like Saxotech will continue to host most newspaper websites for the foreseeable future.

    Our challenge isn't convincing salesmen to abandon print in favor of online. For them, it's a simple calculation: They'll push whatever advertisers will pay for. Right now, for every dollar a print advertiser pays to reach a print reader, they pay five cents to reach an online user. There will be less of a disparity as print readership continues to dwindle and online metrics continue to rise, and the sales folks' priorities will change accordingly. As there's greater demand for online ads, we'll be able to charge higher CPMs.

    In the meantime, local search and video will be the focal points over the next few years. I think search (enhanced business listings, etc.) has some potential; I'm skeptical about our ability to monetize video. Pre-roll ads generally command a strong CPM, but that only matters if people watch them, which probably isn't the case unless you have something worth watching (i.e., if you're partnered with a television station).

    Long-term, I have no idea what the business model for newspaper websites will look like. If I did, I'd own an NBA team like Mark Cuban does, except my team never would have traded for an over-the-hill Jason Kidd. But you're entirely correct -- we need to stop defining ourselves by a product that's rapidly becoming obsolete.
  6. mdpoppy

    mdpoppy Member


    Look at some of the things the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is doing with its site. They're producing actual video segments that would definitely be better than some stuff on FSN, complete with commercials dispersed throughout.

    They've had some ENORMOUS ads, too (a couple times a front page you had to click through to get to the home page ... extremely annoying, but I'm sure it racked in a couple bags of dough).

    I can't speak for the paper since I don't have any connections there, save for a few reporters I've worked alongside of, but it seems like they're defining them more by their Web site than print product these days. I'd like to see what the revenue numbers look like, though.

    But the thing is, we're still going to need the print product to complement the on-line stuff.
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