Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Sky is Falling: Who's Left to Cover It?

This week's media news:

  • The Christian Science Monitor is ceasing publication of its weekday paper.

  • Time Inc. is cutting 600 jobs.

  • Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper publisher, is laying off 3,000 (ten percent of its work force).

  • The Los Angeles Times newsroom is slashing yet another 75.

  • The Newark Star-Ledger is reducing its editorial staff by 40 percent to prevent closing.

  • TV Guide, which Rupert Murdoch unloaded in '99 for $9.2 billion, was sold for one dollar -- one-third the cost of a single issue.
Tragically, print media is in big trouble -- and the companies that own publications were too shortsighted to invest in multimedia production that could have bolstered and monetized their online presence. Consequently, their Websites simply do not have the value of their print equivalents, and as the print product shrinks and disappears, it's questionable as to what will happen with the Websites. There won't be anybody left to provide content for them -- and despite conventional wisdom, that content doesn't create itself. In short, they're doomed. Unless they start getting smart and investing immediately in high-quality multimedia and video journalism.

In Mourning Old Media's Decline , the New York Times' David Carr explains the economics of why, in terms of revenue, a Website can't replace a print product. As you read this, ask yourself if things might have been a lot different if publishers had sufficient vision to build their multimedia capabilities, and produce more online packages of the quality that you see regularly showcased on ?

For readers, the drastic diminishment of print raises an obvious question: if more people are reading newspapers and magazines, why should we care whether they are printed on paper? The answer is that paper is not just how news is delivered; it is how it is paid for. More than 90 percent of the newspaper industry’s revenue still derives from the print product, a legacy technology that attracts fewer consumers and advertisers every single day. A single newspaper ad might cost many thousands of dollars while an online ad might only bring in $20 for each 1,000 customers who see it.

The difference between print dollars and digital dimes — or sometimes pennies — is being taken out of the newsrooms that supply both. And while it is indeed tough all over in this economy, consider the consequences.

New Jersey, a petri dish of corruption, will have to make do with 40 percent fewer reporters at The Star-Ledger, one of the few remaining cops on the beat. The Los Angeles Times, which toils under Hollywood’s nose, has one movie reviewer left on staff. And dozens of communities served by Gannett will have fewer reporters and editors overseeing the deeds and misdeeds of local government and businesses.

At the recent American Magazine Conference, one of the speakers worried that if the great brands of journalism — the trusted news sources readers have relied on — were to vanish, then the Web itself would quickly become a “cesspool” of useless information. That kind of hand-wringing is a staple of industry gatherings.

But in this case, it wasn’t an old journalism hack lamenting his industry. It was Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google.

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