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Legacy media turns the corner?

No, it hasn't. And what's at stake may be journalism itself.

The transition of US News and World Report from a weekly print publication to a "multi-media digital producer of news" may offer an example for other magazines to follow towards growth and prosperity while providing the news we need to make informed decisions about our lives. I was going to say about our democracy- which is true- but mostly it seems to be about our lives as consumers in a democracy.
Of course, the business model developed by USNWR is based on an established circulation of readers who are in a demographic that has the capability and interest to move from print to on-line, and a solid base of advertisers who see value in buying space on a website with 7,000,000 unique viewers per month.

That is not the case for most daily newspapers or weekly magazines with declining sales and staff reductions due to the rise of on-line news sources like USNWR.

The decline in sales and the resulting lay-offs because of investors' disappointment with returns on their investment are reducing the paper's and weeklies' chances of survival, never mind their ability to continue as viable members of the "fourth estate." "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." (David Carr, NYT 10/28/08) How are smaller newspapers going to survive under these circumstances? Then you have to factor in other changes like the age of the readership and viewership and how they are deciding to get their news. As Carr says in the same article, quoting Clay Shirky, “The auto industry and the print industry have essentially the same problem. The older customers like the older products and the new customers like the new ones." And not only hardware like cellphones/smartphones and computers, but the many options of on-line info sharing tools like RSS feeds and e-mail updates and video clips.

Some efforts in Minneapolis are trying to come up with a business model that will put the news on-line while taking into account the challenges of the new technologies and financial trends.
MinnPost, the creation of Joel Kramer, ex-publisher of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, is one of the most successful so far.
The Rake was a monthly print magazine that went entirely on-line several months ago.
Twin Cities Daily Planet produces its own stories with in-house writers, serves as an aggregator of local Twin Cities news gleaned from many local print and on-line publications, and it accepts stories from non-professional writers as part of its mission which includes training citizens to write news stories.
The Uptake is a newer player in the arena trying to find a business model that works. They focus on visual coverage of the news using in-house producers and, like the TCDP, from producers who have trained with them, or from producers who are not "professional" journalists.

As each organization looks for a business model that will provide stability and growth- and profit in some cases- they are also dealing with the questions raised by the latter two organizations that have grown out of the "citizen journalism" movement. Are groups like the Twin Cities Daily Planet "real" news organizations with "real" journalists? Are the arguments about these definitions more about saving journalist's jobs, in spite of the inevitable changes in technologies, tools, and forms of communication, instead of an effort to move journalism forward and to take advantage of the changes? In their search, "...embryonic new business models for news probably won't make many journalists happy... (and) Here's another angle to consider: In their desire to protect their livelihoods, journalists may be inadvertently harming journalism more than they're helping it." (Ken Sands, Poynter on-line) It seems the effort to hit on an effective business model is only being hurt by this reluctance to adjust.

Finally, Farhi glosses over the state of journalism's relationship with its public. He brags that almost 50 million Americans still buy papers and so, he argues, readership is not the issue. But circulation is down more than 14% since 1970 while population has risen 50%. Penetration is roughly half what it was: a mere 17% v 30%. In the UK, daily national newspaper readership dropped 19% in 15 years. I'd say our relationship with readers is a problem. A Gallup survey says 52% of Americans do not trust news media, up from 30% in 1972. Who's responsible for that? My purpose in rebutting Farhi, Greenslade and Monck is not to flagellate journalists but to empower them. To take responsibility for the fall of journalism is to take responsibility for its fate. Who'll try to save it if not journalists? There's not a minute to waste whining. (Jeff Jarvis, "Journalists must take responsibility" 10.13.08, guardian.co.uk home)


(More on Citizen Journalism will be posted elsewhere on this blog.)