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The Future of Print … Is Print?

December 7th, 2016 · No Comments · Journalism, Newspapers

A compelling article from the Columbia Journalism Review is making the rounds in print journalism, and the whole of it rings true:

In a piece entitled “Print is dead. Long live print.” … the author suggests newspapers have no future online. Never have. Never will.

Chasing hits is pointless and profitless and newspapers should instead focus on their print product, which remains the source of the overwhelming portion of their revenue.

That, if I may be so bold, is the essence of the CJR piece written by Michael Rosenwald.

It questions … and nearly mocks … print journalism for chasing the online chimera, a process that can be summed up in this damning paragraph:

“Two decades have passed since newspapers launched websites, and yet here we are. Big city papers have gone under, thousands of journalists have lost their jobs and the idea that digital news will eventually become a decent business feels like a rumor. The reality is this: No app, no streamlined website, no ‘vertical integration’, no social network, no algorithm, no Apple, no Apple Newsstand, no paywall, no soft paywall, no targeted ad, no mobile-first strategy has come close to matching the success of print in revenue or readership. And the most crucial assumption publishers have made about readers, particularly Millennials — that they prefer the immediacy of digital — now seems questionable, too.”

The piece is more convincing in that it starts with the man, Roger Fidler, who envisioned electronic newspapers long before most of them had websites at all.

Fidler’s future of newspapers on electronic tablets, with news delivered instantly, eventually making irrelevant the print product, is something he now questions.

“… he has watched newspapers struggle to move their content and business online. The idea of interactive advertising has clearly not panned out, he says. Readers are annoyed and distracted by it, so many block it with browser extensions. He and others have observed that print offers a limited amount of ad space, which is infinite online, driving down ad prices and sending publishers racing around a hamster wheel. To make money, they need more content to advertise against. Some of this content is — how to put this? — lousy, giving readers another reason not to pay for news.”

The author cites an academic, Iris Chyi of the University of Texas, whose work suggests online penetration and engagement are not growing.

“This got her wondering, like Fidler, whether newspapers were pursuing a future that would never come. [Chyi] has come to believe that the digital shift has been a disaster for media organizations and that there is no evidence online news will ever be economically or culturally viable.”

Of publishers, she says: “They have killed print, their core product, with all of their focus online.”

The article also gets into whether some people — perhaps enough to make print profitable, even now — actually prefer, still, their newspapers on paper, and suggests this group includes young people.

The piece is well worth reading for anyone with an interest in where newspapers — and their shrinking number of professional journalists — are going.



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