Is Today's Print Media On the Wrong Track??

By, Justin Finnegan, Senior Account Executive, Fusion PR

and Chris Michaels, Senior Account Manager, Fusion PR

In this week’s issue of The New Yorker, James Surowiecki has a very interesting piece on the failures of the newspaper industry to remain relevant in an increasingly electronic world. What really struck a chord was Surowiecki’s comparison of the newspaper industry to the railroad industry 50 years ago:
trainwreck“Had the [railroad] bosses realized that they were in the transportation business, rather than the railroad business, they could have moved into trucking and air transport, rather than letting other companies dominate. By extension, many argue that if newspapers had understood they were in the information business, rather than the print business, they would have adapted more quickly and more successfully to the Net.”
This becomes increasingly important as some of the largest publications are migrating towards online distribution. Some of those, like US News and World Report, are going to an exclusive online ditribution model.
Yet, as John Kroblin points out in the NY Observer, there are still some old media conductors, hanging onto the rusting rails of print.
Recently, Forbes managing editor, Andy Serwer, conveined a meeting to congratulate the successes of Forbes.com and it’s breaking news coverage. He applauded the nimbleness of the online reporters, and their ability to quickly react to urgent stories that kept the outlet as a premiere online destination for leading news. 
Yet, only a few months later, the .com arm of the brand is almost completely disbanded. This comes as the holding company, Time Warner, has decided that breaking news is no longer important, and its properties like CNN Money and Forbes.com needed to cut the fat (in the form of 600 online reporters) to remain “profitable.”
Profit being the operative word. Apparently publishers today don’t think that online readers are “worth” the same as print readers; therefore you can’t undercut your revenues of paid print subscriptions by giving away the information for free on the Internet. Wasn’t that the case for upgrading to newer engines? Profitibility?
Much like the modern rail systems, global media outlets have made great improvements over time. The adoption of wire services and electronic filing could arguably have given the old steam engine a diesel changeout. Then by adding the Internet, we were seeing introductions into the electric age. Some might argue that certain outlets have embraced the Web 2.0 advancements so much, that we were seeing bullet-train infrastructures.
However, by ignoring the fact that these publications are indeed in the informaiton market, not the printing market, the advancements have returned the media to turn-of-the-century levels. Unfortunately, by stymieing the growth of the publication by ignoring or eliminating the Web, many of the publications today are downgrading from diesel and electric trains, back to corroded steam engines.
There still a number of successful pubs today that have embraced the Web as a strong portion of its news coverage. But until we start to see the change in mentality by publishers, outlets like USA Today or The Wall Street Journal might just become the Amtrak of newspapers by 2056.
3 Comments
  • Craig Kanalley

    December 17, 2008 at 1:34 pm Reply

    Justin and Chris, I enjoyed reading the article. Interesting analogy to the railroad industry and I think it’s right on in a lot of ways.

    But I don’t believe that the news business simply understanding it’s in the information business is enough. My former employer Gannett, for example, started totally revamping its newsrooms a few years ago, calling the newsroom the Nerve Center and the Information Center. We all began to fundamentally do things differently than before with the Web ALWAYS being first.

    The problem is Gannett refused to make changes with the print product, other than reduce page count and cut the newshole. And that’s where I think you’re right. It’s not just understanding you’re part of the information business, it’s making fundamental adaptations to account for that. That’s what print media needs to do with the print side.

    If they put more resources elsewhere, things would be a lot better off. While they may not be “profitable,” they’ll make enough to get by and pay their staffers. And do a noble deed in serving the people.

  • Chris Michaels

    December 17, 2008 at 2:42 pm Reply

    Excellent point, Craig. I believe that there are definite changes needed for a lot of the media outlets today, especially if they want to keep the prominence or position as leaders in breaking news.

    It’s not enough just to integrate changes to operations, it also has to be on the media distribution.

    From the PR agency opinion, we’re always saddened to hear of our journalist friends who no longer have jobs because they were strictly Internet-based. At the same time, we’re often frustrated because some of the most insightful, timely and on-point reporters are Web-based or dual Web and print.

    Should the publishers, then, look at the duality of publishing models? There’s still a need for print, but with more people, myself included, reading major publications (WSJ, the NY Times, etc.) via electronic media and mobile devices, shouldn’t we anticipate the simulcast? Wouldn’t that increase subscriptions?

    Just a side note.

  • Mike

    December 18, 2008 at 8:48 am Reply

    Hi guys,
    Nice post – I enjoyed reading it and the link to the New Yorker.

    I’m a firm believer that in the next 10 years, the print versions of the majority of major dailies will no longer exist. This can be seen as a positive by some of the publishers, as they can could possibly charge readers for subscriptions. Here’s an alternative…

    I’d like to introduce you both to a new way of delivering the news – and BusinessWeek is the early adopter. Called Business as a Second Language, it allows readers to practice their ‘Business English’ while reading current events with interactive real-time feedback. Disclaimer: I work for the neuroLanguage – the company who developed the software.

    This is an example of one way the news is being distributed online, while also increasing revenue as print readership slides. Just thought I’d let you know. Feel free to check it out: http://www.businessweekbsl.com – free trials end Dec. 31.

    Cheers,
    Mike

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