Sunday, November 18, 2012

What's happening to newspapers?

iPads, e-readers, PCs, laptops and the Internet. They're all changing the media environment in which newspaper must operate. But, as an industry, the newspaper hasn't figured out the best west to adapt to this relatively new electronic world; more importantly: how do newspapers generate revenue today and in the future? They certainly knew how to do it in the past.

In order to make money, a key problem for newspapers in cyberspace is "packaging." I learned this in a recent book by Stephen B. Shepherd entitled Deadline & Disruption: My Turbulent Path from Print to Digital, published this year (2012) by McGraw-Hill.  To find out more about this book and, perhaps, order it from Amazon, simply click on the link below:

Shepherd quotes Michael Golden, vice chair and President of the New York Times: "We've lost the power to package." Today, users of the Internet are attracted to read and then share a specific story and this satisfies the paper's quest for "page views," one of the main criteria for website ad sales. This creates a focus on these "high hit count" pieces and diminishes coverage of less important stories. Increasingly, these subjects don't get covered at all, narrowing the traditional scope of journalism.

The electronic world isn't just a challenge of newspapers. Magazine and book publishing are both facing their biggest change since scribes with quill pens were replaced by Gutenberg's printing press. As much as I appreciate great layout and typography, I have to confess that I'm hooked on my Kindle, the e-reader sold by Amazon. Barnes & Noble Nook fans are equally enthralled with that company's device. In the past, if I found a book at the public library that I wanted to own, I'd buy the hard or soft cover edition. Now, I order the electronic version for my e-reader.

I like the way e-readers serve up text, one page at a time, turning those pages with a press of my finger. Being able to carry around hundreds of books and magazine articles - to read anytime and anywhere - is much easier to do than carrying around dead trees.

However, e-books are not without their systemic problems. Art Brodsky of The Huffington Post asks the question: "Has anyone seen a used e-book?" He points out that one is not really purchasing an e-book; readers are leasing these packages of electronic bits. And when one stops to think about it, he's right. You can read his thoughtful essay on this subject, by clicking on this link: "The Mystery of the Missing E-Books"

Regarding printed newspapers and magazines--we need them because of what they do: original research, good writing and careful, responsible editing, plus their permanency.  Although newspapers are trying to do good journalism on their websites, it's not returning the revenue the print paradigm did. And it's in solving that problem that the whole future of journalism rests. Traditional network TV, the local broadcast outlets, cable networks, websites and blogs can't replace what newspapers and magazines have done for the last two hundred years.

And, we may need printed books, despite the popularity of electronic reading devices. How will today's literature be preserved for readers 100 years into the future? It's difficult, if not impossible, to read some electronic documents I produced only ten years ago, but the text of the Gutenberg Bible, printed over 500 years ago, is still very readable. You just have to know the German language.