By Zachary Weiss
Beneath the veil of high-quality reporting, bold headlines and vibrant pictures, journalism is a business–an industry where the bottom line can dictate content and advertisers are often the financial life force of a publication. Yet as more people begin to view their news online and prime advertising space moves away from its traditional home in print, newspapers and magazines have entered into a sort of identity crisis, scrambling to find their place in the digital age.
This scramble has taken various approaches. Many newspapers are raising prices to offset lost subscriptions and advertising dollars, while many magazines are stopping their print divisions entirely by only appearing online. Some industry insiders view the situation as a power struggle between the two media, with the internet’s blooming profitability signaling the beginning of the end for print. Others remain confident that the unique appeal of the printed page will offer the form commercial immortality, believing that the internet will function simply as a complementary resource. However, in the interest of ascertaining the most realistic picture of the news’ future, it is important to realize that both viewpoints are valid, as each medium holds its own potentialities and limitations. The internet’s speed and immediacy provides it with a distinct advantage on breaking news over print. But in dealing with longer articles, providing in-depth reporting, and facilitating a unique consumer experience, print media has historically held the upper hand, and it is this particular expertise that just may save its waning popularity.
With the advent of the digital age, the newspaper seems to be the most unfortunate victim amongst print media forms. Instead of relying on a daily paper and its slower turn around rates, more and more people are turning to online sites which can provide the most current information about breaking news. With its ability to publish instantly and update constantly throughout the day, the internet often causes printed stories to comparatively lose their news value. Naturally, because there is no advantage to reading old news, readers are increasingly choosing to receive their news online rather than in print. Such a shift is already beginning to have dramatic consequences on many facets of the news arena: from advertising and story length, to the place of the journalist and corporate convergence, mass adaptation and experimentation has become the norm in the internet’s brutal, sink-or-swim environment.
Losing Out To Online Advertising
Predictably, this general shift in reading habits has caused many larger advertising firms to redirect their attention from print to the web, leaving almost every major publication to wage a losing battle for ad space. In May 2007 alone, the Gannett Company, which prints 85 dailies in the United States including USA Today, and which owns Newsquest, the UK’s second largest regional newspaper publisher, suffered 6.8 percent decrease in ad revenue. This loss was mild in comparison to the New York Times’ and Tribune Company’s print advertising losses, which checked in at 9.9 percent and 11.8 percent respectively.
In addition to lost revenue from major advertisers, newspapers are continuing to lose money from classified advertisements as more people opt to post on websites like Ebay, Facebook and Craigslist over a spot in the local paper. In the US alone, spending on classified ads fell 13.2 percent this year, and experts predict that the figure will only increase in the future.
Meanwhile, news websites have continued to thrive. In 2006, newspapers’ online ad revenue increased by almost one third to $2.7 billion, with the trend showing no signs of slowing. In the first quarter of 2007 alone, online ad revenue for news sites increased by over 20 percent to $750 million. As consumers increasingly spend more time with their eyes glued to a screen over a page, major newspapers will continue to lose billions of dollars in revenue to websites each year.
To combat these issues, some publications, like The New York Times, have increased prices, some, like the Los Angeles Times, have cut jobs, and others, like ELLEgirl and Premiere magazines, have stopped printing entirely. Jack Kliger, president and CEO of Hachette Filipacchi Media, the company that owns ELLEgirl and Premiere explains, “Ad sales for Premiere were down nearly 25 percent in 2006.” He also adds, “ELLEgirl’s teen audience gets more of its information from computers and cell phones than it does from traditional magazines.” Currently, online content accounts for between 7 percent and 10 percent of Hachette Filipacchi’s revenue, and Kliger believes that “in the next three to five years…the number will triple.” With such a dramatic increase in revenue in such a short period of time, publishers have reason to ponder the place of print publications in their businesses.
Print’s Advantages & The Magazine Approach
While magazines are clearly not immune to these advertising losses, they have not been subjected to as dramatic a crisis as the newspaper world. Because individual magazines are normally read by a specific, niche demographic, advertisers can effectively use magazines to target particular audiences. At the same time, a 2006 study by communications company The Ogilvy Group concluded that the “appetite for magazines is largely unchanged between older baby boomers and younger millennials.” Given this propensity for both specified focus and universal appeal, magazine readers often view their advertisements as a kind of vital, secondary content, rather than as irritating space filler. They view these advertisements as part of the unique “glossiness” that the magazine experience affords.
Magazine readers are also pulled in by the attention given to extended, well-researched pieces. While newspapers have failed in their attempt to compete with the internet’s speed of update, magazines have repeatedly succeeded in producing engaging features and investigative reports in a comfortable format. It is this attention to long-form quality and familiarity that has made newspapers begin take notice.
To capitalize on magazine’s higher level of success, many newspapers have begun to imitate the magazine style by adding more features, images, and portable inserts.
“Papers have gone tabloid, using a lot more colour and a lot of celebrity coverage,” explains Neil Thurman, a senior lecturer at City University in London and specialist in electronic publishing. “They are definitely taking onboard some magazine qualities.”
Yet, many have argued that this change in tactics can often come at the expense of quality. Some have even gone so far as to suggest a betrayal of a newspaper’s main focus: news.
“There are occasions when my paper misses serious stories and runs feature material,” says Paul Anderson, a sub-editor at The Guardian since 1997. “There needs to be a limit to it and a commitment to news.”
Lesley Anslow, editor of the Bury Free Press feels even more strongly about a paper’s commitment to news: “Newspapers are what they are. They are news first and foremost. If you’re turning newspaper into magazine, you should stop being a journalist.”
However, in such a sink-or-swim environment, this hard-line stance may not be viable if certain publications are to survive the rapidly changing rules of the game.
Others argue that the main key to sustained success in the digital world may not lie in print media’s appearance, but in its physical traits, such as portability and tangibility, which provide unique advantages when printing longer stories. As most readers’ have shorter online attention spans and would rather read multiple pages on paper than on screen, this disadvantage of online publishing is a limitation from which printed publications can benefit.
“Until I’ve seen a viable electronic paper, as flexible and unobtrusive as a newspaper or magazine, I’ll continue buying a newspaper every morning,” says Anderson. “It’s the easiest format to read on a train or bus.” He also jokes about the possible expense of a portable electronic publication: “Even with an electronic paper, I’m not going to have somebody nicking £400 worth of equipment.”
Yet regardless of this advantage, the shrinking print market has led to a decline in longer stories. When talking about moving Premiere magazine to the internet, Kliger admitted that an “in-depth analysis of what’s going on behind the scenes in the movies that was a 10-page story in [a magazine] is not going to be replicated on the Web.”
Decisions like Kliger’s to leave longer stories offline have caused journalists like Kevin Cullen, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer from The Boston Globe, to express concern that these changes could lead to the end of comprehensive, investigative stories: “The only place we see [investigative reporting] is in the print media, and I don’t know if we’ll see it in five or 10 years down the road and that scares the hell out of me.”
Convergence, Multiskilling & The Brand
Instead of viewing the current state of journalism as a struggle for dominance between print and online media, industry employees must seek to develop a relationship between their periodicals and websites. A recent study of library usage from the University of Chicago showed that “the more an individual uses books, the more he or she uses electronic-research resources, and vice-versa.” In order to remain successful, publishers and journalists would be smart to apply these findings. Publications can use their websites to prompt readers to buy their printed work, and, through the creation of complementary content, encourage readers to use both electronic and printed products. Certain magazines like Car and Driver and Better Homes and Gardens are already experimenting with this method by providing visitors to their website with interactive simulations. Efforts like these will be essential in re-stabilizing the print industry’s longevity.
As Thurman explains, a company’s success will lie in “cross promoting and breaking the barriers between the newsrooms.” Given print’s comparative limitations and shrinking story length, the secret to surviving in the digital world seems to lie in cooperation between online and print newsrooms: in the convergence of the two mediums to maximize the appeal of both. Traditionally, media companies have kept their online and print departments mutually exclusive, but these trying conditions have precipitated a growing trend towards a shared effort which can take advantage of both the web’s multimedia potential and print’s unique capabilities.
This convergence is fundamentally changing the way users engage with the news. For instance, instead of relying solely on text and images, the internet allows publications to present their stories using audio/video podcasts, moving diagrams, charts, and more. The presentation of a story has changed from simply the main text and an accompanying image to a meshing of related multimedia.
“Take a story like Gordon Brown inadvertently taxing too much on low income people,” said James Anslow, former subeditor at The Sun and News of the World. “Within the news story there will be hypertext links to longer related features. If you want to see the full parliamentary debate there will be a video cast and podcast.”
“We’re now delivering news in various ways on different platforms. Editors think ‘how many different ways are we presenting this today?’…It’s a much more complex and sophisticated process.”
This added complexity to news presentation and emphasis on the utilization of multiple platforms has led to a change in the necessary skills of people entering the business. The modern journalist cannot simply be a writer/reporter, but must have an understanding, if not a mastery, of the particulars of web-publishing.
“As an up-and-coming reporter I would want to know how to take still photos and present them, how to take video clips and present them, how to edit audio, edit video, crop photographs…have web skills and a familiarity with content management systems,” says Anslow, concerning the necessary skills of an aspiring journalist.
“News values are changing. It becomes important to find as many multimedia ways of adding to a story. Print journalists used to look for front-page pictures. Now they’re looking for today’s video and podcast.”
As current or recent employees of leading publications, Journalism professors have witnessed first-hand this change in the necessary and expected skills of those entering the profession, and have begun to train their students to do much more than just report.
“We need to be training journalists to be multiskilled,” says Anderson, who is also a lecturer at City University in London. “Multiskilling is important.”
However, this emphasis on multimedia does not in any way diminish the need for quality text, as the written word will continue to be the most important part of any printed story. As current technology only allows stories to be indexed and searched by text, the need to provide relevant written content remains a necessity in the archival context. Thus, writing will continue to be the most important skill for a reporter, even for online news sites.
“Text is still what people come for,” says Thurman. “It’s the driver.”
As the internet’s strengths have become clear to the both news providers and consumers, the importance of branding and positioning one’s publication within the market have become key points for news companies to consider. Given the crowded nature of the internet, as well as its international component, what makes a reader choose a certain publication’s site? Who has the best world news section, the best political reports, or the best sports coverage?
As Anslow explains, “the big challenge is how can a brand give value to the news? News is ubiquitous. Value needs to be added by a brand.”
An even more frightening prospect for some publishers is that a person living in a certain city could conceivably stay up to date on all relevant news without reading a local paper. As Thurman states, “Most British sites get two-thirds of their traffic from overseas.” While this fact may be profitable for some British sites, the idea that local eyes are reading foreign papers can be a bit troubling. As web content is disseminated throughout the entire world, does a paper position itself against its local rivals or against foreign competition? Is a paper like The Guardian pitting itself against The Independent or The New York Times?
“I think that there will be a trend toward the bigger brands…Big brands that will maybe be global,” says Thurman. “Yet on the other side, there will be specialized sites. There probably won’t be a middle class of websites.”
This emphasis on global marketing or niche specialization may be key to the industry’s survival, but it also may leave many publications struggling, as they are pitted against a global brand’s coverage of larger events or a niche site’s more detail-oriented, specialized reports.
And yet for all of this emphasis on change in the new media environment, these problems with publishing essentially harken back to a struggle over old journalistic ideals: the necessity of providing superior, detailed, accurate and timely content. Even during this time of massive transition, industry veterans are re-emphasizing skills that journalists have been practicing throughout news history.
“A lot of the old school rules and skills not only remain but have been enhanced,” says Anslow. “We want [news] now and we want it quick, accurate and legally safe…Content is king. What matters at the end of the day is content.”
Just as success before the internet was mostly dictated by the quality of a publication’s product, success in the digital age will continue to be determined much in the same way. The only real difference may be the format of the content and the opportunity to cater to a larger audience.
While the situation currently may seem bleak in the world of news journalism, it is certainly not panic time for people in the print industry. The internet is a fairly new medium, and print companies are still experimenting with its collaborative potential and trying to determine the long-term effects of its growth.
But even in the face of the web’s dominance over timely reportage and its ability to incorporate multimedia supplements, it would be ill-advised to assume that the internet’s success will lead to the extinction of all print media. Print publications have a distinct advantage in longer-formats, and their portability and accessibility provide an experience that cannot yet be duplicated in online formats. In the meantime, earnings will suffer, especially when companies subscribe to the either/or, antagonistic logic of trying to gauge which outlet is more beneficial. In the digital age, print media probably will not dominate the market like it has in the past, but by playing off its unique capacities and working in tandem with its online counterpart, print will survive.
Works Cited/Works Consulted
Annett, Tim. “The Afternoon Report: Printing Pressed.” The Wall Street Journal 8 Feb. 2007, Eastern ed. ProQuest. USC Doheny Library, Los Angeles. 4 Oct. 2007.
“Business: Out of Vogue; the Magazine Industry.” The Economist 29 Sept. 2007: 82. ProQuest. USC Doheny Library, Los Angeles. 4 Oct. 2007.
The New York Times. “The Times is Raising Newspaper Prices.” The New York Times 21 June 2007, Late ed., sec. C: 9. ProQuest. USC Doheny Library, Los Angeles. 4 Oct. 2007.
Steel, Emily. “Newspapers’ Ad Sales Show Accelerating Drop.” The Wall Street Journal 18 July 2007, Eastern ed., sec. A: 4. ProQuest. USC Doheny Library, Los Angeles. 4 Oct. 2007.
Steinberg, Brian. “Moving Magazines Out of Print World to Strictly Online.” The Wall Street Journal 28 Mar. 2007, Eastern ed., sec. B: 3c. ProQuest. USC Doheny Library, Los Angeles. 4 Oct. 2007.
Taibbi, Matt. “Matt Taibbi Answers Your Questions.” Rolling Stone 22 June 2007. 12 Oct. 2007 .
Tenner, Edward. “The Prestigious Inconvenience of Print.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 9 Mar. 2007, sec. B: 7-8. ProQuest. USC Doheny Library, Los Angeles. 4 Oct. 2007.
“News War.” Frontline. PBS. 12 Oct. 2007 .
Paul Anderson – April 11, 3:10-3:40pm
Neil Thurman – April 17, 1:00-2:00pm
James Anslow – Wed Apr 23, 2:00-3:00pm
Lesley Anslow – May 2, 11:00am-12:00pm