|November 3, 2008|
|Congrats to Christian Science Monitor for Junking Print Model; More Papers Will Follow|
|By Kevin McCauley|
|Congratulations to the Christian Science Monitor for the gutsy decision to junk the weekday print edition in favor of the 24/7 online CSMonitor.com. |
The CSM proudly boasts that its move represents the “future of journalism.” The CSM is right about that, but the paper’s only real option was to bite the bullet on print. Its circulation of 52K is far from the 220K copies sent out in 1970. The Monitor’s financial angel, First Church of Christ, Scientist, also is reeling in subsidies to the CSM. It plans to shrink those outlays from $12M a year to $4M in five years.
The Monitor now has a fighting chance to survive/thrive into its second century as a pithy online news source, feeding around-the-clock updates to a worldwide audience hungry for unbiased reporting and comprehensive commentary.
More newspapers--or at least the smart ones--will follow the Monitor’s trail-blazing example. Publicly-traded media companies have no choice. It’s just a matter of time. Stocks of Gannett, McClatchy, Lee Enterprises, Gatehouse Media and New York Times Co. have been beaten to a pulp. Wall Street is marking down those shares as if the companies are heading for Chapter XI. The Motley Fool investment site ran a piece Oct. 8 called “Which of These Newspaper Stocks Will Die?” Readers put McClatchy and NYTC on top, two of the most admired journalism outfits.
The newspaper model is based on the Industrial Revolution concept of mass production, a notion out of date with the never-ending global onslaught of specialized on-demand information. David Alessandro, former PR man and CEO of John Hancock Financial Services, told the Council of PR Firms last week the mainstream media model is “worse than dead.” How can a company survive when only 34 percent of the population says they read a paper the day before? That’s down from 40 percent two years ago, and 85 percent in 1946.
Philip Meyer, author of “The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age,” believes newspapers can make a go of it if they abandon the “old hunter-gatherer model of journalism.”
He wrote in the October/November American Journalism Review:
“Now that information is so plentiful, we don’t need new information so much as help in processing what’s already available. Just as the development of modern agriculture led to a demand for varieties of processed food, the information age has created a demand for processed information. We need someone to put it into context, give it theoretical framing and suggest ways to act on it. The raw material for this processing is evidence-based journalism, something that bloggers are not good at originating.”
Meyer is certain there is demand for newspapers from an “educated, opinion-leading, news-junkie core.” They insist on newspapers as a defense against “persuasive communication, the euphemism for advertising, public relations and spin that exploits the confusion of information overload. Readers need and want to be equipped with truth-based defenses.” Those opinion-leaders will be getting their information from online newspapers that have earned the trust of readers.
Anne Moore, CEO of Time Inc., reinforced Meyer’s position in her Oct. 28 memo announcing the restructuring of the magazine empire.
"The importance of fact-based journalism has never been clearer given the many serious issues facing the world and our core competency, trusted editing skills, has never been more needed than in this time of too much information.
Moore makes a great point, though it provides little consolation to the 600 people that she is laying off in the reorganization. The next two-to-three years will be a hellacious time for newspapers. They are being forced to abandon /downgrade print advertising, which accounts for 90 percent of their revenue base, for future growth in the wired world. Good luck to all. We need a thriving and robust press to keep the political, business, religious, celebrity and sports rogues in check.
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