Optimism for a change

Jim Stovall at JProf is an optimist when it comes to the decline of newspapers and the rise of new news media.

His recent post tells us that we can expect the new crop of editors and publishers to recognize that news is decentralized and that it will have to respect its audience more if it wants to attract an audience in the digital age.

He also writes that journalism will improve, as the need for quality reporting and writing will only improve when the market become saturated with thousands of competing news sites.

It’s refreshing to hear an optimist, but then again, Stovall doesn’t even approach the topic of money in this particular post. How a news organization will pay for itself remains a question firmly up in the air, if that can even be a phrase.


The 24/7 newsroom in a small city

I’ve been reading articles lately, especially one by Steve Yelvington, that say that once a Web-focused newsroom wakes up to the idea that news happens day and night, there’s no going back.

But I wonder whether that is true for newspapers in small cities. I know for a fact that my local 18,000-circulation paper is starting to think about the Web as its primary source of news; the newsroom is taking its first steps anyhow.

Say that my paper does become Web-centric, posting stories online as they are done and using the print version as a digest of all the online work done the previous day. Can this work in a city of this size, where offices actually close at 5 p.m. and there just aren’t any sources to talk to much after nightfall?

In other words, can the 24/7 newsroom operate in a small city that doesn’t really operate 24/7? Is there any point to a 24/7 newsroom in that city? Is there any point to a Web-centric newsroom — the benefit of which is quick dissemination of news — in such a city?

Don’t stop the presses just yet

Alan Mutter has written an excellent post about why most newspapers cannot afford to shut down their presses and go all-digital.

Mutter proceeds from two premises: that it would be “suicidal for any reasonably profitable publisher to stop its presses in perpetuity” and that a paper going all-digital will have to lay off about half its editorial staff to stay profitable.

Newspapers, he points out, earn about 90 percent of their profits from print ads, and a paper moving to an all-digital format can expect to earn only about 10 percent of the money it did when it produced both a hard copy and an online edition.

He takes a closer look at the famous article by Jeff Jarvis from a few weeks ago, the one in which Jarvis revealed that the Los Angeles Times makes enough from Web advertising to pay the salaries of its 660 newsroom staff members.

Mutter points out that salaries aren’t all the costs that go into building even an all-digital newspaper. You have to pay for health insurance, taxes, IT concerns and myriad other costs, not to mention all the debt that the paper has already incurred.

In other words, the LA Times needs its print division to help pay the bills. Shutting off its presses would mean cutting the newsroom staff by about half or more.

But Mutter is not going around throwing wooden shoes into the all-digital camp’s machinery:

[T]his is not to say that publishing won’t, or shouldn’t, migrate to all-digital media in the future. Before that happens, however, the economics of the business would have to change far more radically than they have to date.

No news is bad news

I just read James Warren’s article in The Atlantic, “When No News is Bad News,” and I’m a little inspired and depressed at the same time. Why should that be? Warren’s article hasn’t presented me with any information I didn’t know already. Newspapers are in trouble and can’t find a business model to save themselves, yet the work journalists do is vital to public safety and key to keeping our governments honest.

Continue reading “No news is bad news”

Langeveld: Newspaper downturn caused by shift in American interests, not by Web

Martin Langeveld at the Nieman Journalism Lab writes that the real cause of the woes facing the newspaper industry is not the Web. Rather, it is the shifting and expanding American attention span.

Langeveld writes that the heyday of newspapers coincided with periods of the 20th century in which Americans were united in their passions and interests — the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam. But the decades after have seen a boom in the number of luxuries and options available to Americans. Instead of every citizen focusing on the same issues, our range of interests has exploded.

It’s no wonder, then, that we can’t get more people to read the newspaper these days; there’s just not enough column inches to appeal to everyone.

The Web, Langeveld says, only accelerated this death spiral for the industry. It did not cause the spiral in the first place.

His advice to the news industry:

To have even a chance of survival, the mindset of the industry needs to become: We are in the business of publishing information content continuously on our web sites; every 24 hours (for now, and this may ultimately change to once or twice weekly) we gather some of that information into a printed product and distribute it, but our business is focused on and driven by our online operations.

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Good for the Creative Commons!