Saving the newspaper industry?

As an industry, the newspaper business is trying to convert print subscribers into both print and online subscribers. Print revenues are dropping with advertisers less likely to invest in a paper that may be more read online than in print.

As a child, my father got the Detroit Free Press delivered to our front porch every day. After he was through reading the paper in the morning and promptly through it into the recycle bin, I would fish it out after school and read myself.  Many mornings I would be the one to bring it inside. He kept important dates: birthdays, holidays, and the first paper of the year. I dreamt of either becoming a paper girl or delivering papers, or one day working in a Detroit newsroom so my name could be read by the community too.

When I heard that we wouldn’t be getting the paper as of March 2009, I was devastated. I had other outlets I received news from, but nothing gave me more pleasure than opening the first section of the paper, with the ability to fold, clip and read the stories inside.

The American Journalism Review reported on the status of that change one year later in this article (http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=4871) Free Press editor Paul Anger remained optimistic that it was the right decision. Many other papers around the country followed suit.

It’s not new news either that journalists are struggling. According to this article (http://www.businessinsider.com/why-new-york-times-is-firing-more-journalists-charts-2012-12) from Business Insider, the New York Times is cutting down on newsroom jobs because of their inability for the digital business to catch up with the revenue in the print business. Cutting staff raises red flags for new journalists who have not had the time or experience necessary to keep themselves busy with work. As young journalists, that means we have to be adaptable to the trends of the industry.

The article above cites the success of the paper’s paywall, which requires readers to pay to read articles after viewing 10 per month, down from 20 when it was implemented in March 2010.

This article  (http://www.cjr.org/the_audit/the_nyt_grows_in_2012.php?page=all) from the Columbia Journalism Review updates the success of that paywall. And comically, this (http://www.businessinsider.com/here-are-5-tips-you-can-try-to-keep-reading-articles-for-free-from-the-new-york-times-2012-3?op=1) from Business Insider describes ways to get around it.

Is the paywall doing more harm or good? Are financial reasons really the main cause of the plight of the newspaper industry? What other causes could be attributed to the trend? Sure, the rise of technology impacts how quickly and easily people receive news, but abolishing the newspaper rids us of an American tradition that I and many others are not ready to let go of.

What are we losing culturally when people write off print newspapers?

Is saving the newspaper worth it? As journalists, how do we feel about the future of news?

Lastly, the impact of the physical newsroom cannot be downsized, either. I hope that as we visit the newsroom, we will get to hear the opinions of those hard-working journalists on these tough subjects.

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About Gabriella

Gabriella Ring is a recent graduate at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.

10 Responses to “Saving the newspaper industry?”

  1. I’m curious about the future of paywalls as a business model as the use of news aggregators increases. People are willing to pay for a subscription to a NYT or other elite news source because it’s hard to get that breadth and depth of news in one place. The advent of resources like google news, reddit, tumblr, and other similar resources can allow a similar news consumption experience. The advantage of these sites is that a user can still access premium content because they are unlikely to use any given news service to the point that the paywall activates, instead switching between as they are referred to them. One Change I have seen is in the structure of the paywall itself. Instead of a user accessing some pre-set number of articles, they have access to some portion of the article. This sci-am article shows this different structure http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=rich-see-different-internet-than-the-poor&page=2.

    My guess is that there is going to be a move to a more advertising based paradigm for online news. It’s virtually impossible to prevent users from copying the content, or summarizing it in the comments on a website like reddit. You can however sell eye-time.

    All this some interesting consequences for what news gets produced, too. Advertisers pay more for eyes with disposable income, and those same people are going to buy more subscriptions(I’d be curious to see some psychological work on who is willing to spend 70 cents on a paper every day vs 10 dollars a month). This would create an incentive to report a certain kind of news. Ultimately news sources might be forced to produce (to a greater degree than they already do, which is plenty) news designed to appeal to a wealthier demographic, or a demographic more likely to spend money online.

  2. I think it is important to note that the shift in the way news is delivered (move from print to online, paywall implementation, etc.) is a result of financial issues but these financial issues stem from an evolving technological society that has yet to be fully embraced.

    Newsrooms are forced to cut back on staff and many papers cannot afford to distribute printed papers daily. Perhaps there are less opportunities to work in the field of journalism and there is a greater demand on reporters to deliver news as fast as possible which may compromise quality. But if we continue to consider these changes as ‘the destruction of an industry’ then we are destined to go down with the ship.

    It is important that we embrace online reporting and strive to differentiate ourselves from free sources. New technology, while it has created a great deal of new competition, has also opened up many opportunities to report in a more engaging fashion. While I cannot suggest a solution to overcoming new competition or convincing people to pay for news when they can often find it for free, I am sure that newspapers can survive this shift. It won’t be easy and it will take time to find a place in a society that values free over quality in most situations.

    I will admit that I like to read news in print, but I think that our generation is already accustomed to reading off of a screen and I don’t think that it is necessarily a bad thing. Cultures change all the time and generally what is left behind are things that have been replaced by a better version of the former. In this case, books and news are more accessible and that is a good thing. Certainly we face a challenge but free sources cannot produce the quality or accuracy that a for profit source can.

  3. I definitely agree with the comments made above. Technology has completely revolutionized the way we think, access information, and spread awareness of issues. When I think about the news, I either turn on the TV or go online and look it up. Why should I waste paper, kill trees, and carry something around if I don’t have to? This is a natural part of the business cycle, in which innovation drives out companies from the market. But then, a new market emerges and that brings in new jobs. We are now finding more Bloggers than ever and seeing that information is being passed so rapidly.

    It’s not just a black and white issue. This cycle happens in every industry. And while people lose jobs, there is potential for new growth as well.

  4. I would like to point out, and please forgive me if someone already has and I just didn’t see it, the slight irony that we should be reading these articles on the internet and discussing the effects of the internet on this industry via that very technology. I agree with some of the earlier mentioned posts that people must embrace the change from print to an online source for news. The companies need to accept that a very key aspect of their business is fundamentally changing, the delivery of a physical, daily paper. In flexibility will ultimately lead to the demise of some of these news agencies, however, if these companies work with the change in technology, and perhaps redistribute some of the finances in the company, they will not need to be sacrifices in their personnel or the quality of the product they distribute.
    It is also an interesting perspective to see the good and bad aspects of the news reporting being open to a wider audience. Now some people who may have not had the access to professional training or get the opportunity to get their stories published through a variety of different obstacles, have far more opportunities over the internet. Now nearly all aspects of the news can be accessed through the internet and there are media sources that can be accessed easily to post one’s articles. On the other hand, this can be problematic because of the low bar these articles are held to. Misinformation is rampant on the internet because there is not a strong demand for fact checking or accurate information for all news sources. One must now be more selective as to where the information they are reading is being published from. Perhaps we can turn this skepticism and unreliability of news on the internet to a positive. One can argue in many news sources, or really any article or paper that is trying to prove a point or assert an opinion on a topic, one should be critical, to a certain degree, on the truthfulness of a statement or to at least consider the background from which the person is asserting their point. One of the best teachers I ever had in high school said question everything, never feel like you cannot question the validity of a statement someone makes, especially if the argument is in print.

  5. Sitting by my friends at college each morning reading the paper over breakfast has been a warm memory indeed. We each open to a different page, and then to break the silence one person would comment about one of the news articles they saw, which inevitably leads into a morning conversation about local and world news. This charming experience is like many others which I enjoy: walking into a bookstore hunting around for my class books, perusing through others for the shear fun of it, talking with the book store owner who seems to know every title by heart; making dinner each night by hand, talking, laugh, sharing, with my friends and family as they help to do so as well; buying Christmas presents from a store, actually walking into the store and being charmed by the warmth of the employees striking up conversations with them making the whole process that much more attractive and heartfelt. It is these moments which I treasure, the interactions of places, objects, but most importantly people. These moments of connection with one an other that are cherished and treasured add warmth to our days. If I sound idealistic, it is because I am. I know that my generation no longer cares for reading the news paper by hand or mailing someone a letter, they rather that interactions be quick, convenient and online. I understand, I do, it is less expensive, faster, and more environmentally friendly. However, I wonder if they remember the culture that I do, the warmth and comfort that come from the “older” ways of communication? and if they did, would they save it?

  6. Essentially the news industry is experiencing what many other industries are experiencing: the bubble bursting. When this occurs, business models need to change and that means pricing strategies need to be re-invented. Paywalls are inconsistent with how consumers have been accustomed to using the internet. Since its inception, 99% has been free. It is absolutely unreasonable to expect the world to just now start paying for content. If stamps were given away for free from the onset of the USPS, it would be impossible for them now to demand that we pay for stamps to help save the industry.

    This is an unfortunate reality, but I find it interesting one of the articles this week mentioned many people buy newspapers for local coupons, not just for the news consumption. I feel it would be more reasonable if papers offered a bundled service: you receive complete access to the website, exclusive coupons, rewards points, etc. Essentially a loyalty rewards program, something retailers are finding the need to offer to remain competitive.

    The only other option I foresee is for the news to become a non-profit run organization. If the goal of the news industry is to inform the electorate, they should be supported by the electorate but not aim to profit from it. It may seem unreasonable to discuss profits when the entire industry is running at a deficit and many papers have closed. But as the next wave of news organizations formulates it rules, it is worthy to rethink the way past organizations evaluate their successes. Ad revenue could then be considered donations and tax deductions instead of expenses. Although this may influence an organization’s objectivity, it will at least avoid allowing crowds to report the news. A strategy which I feel is detriment to our society. Jumping to conclusions and taking a Facebook friend’s word that it Ryan Lanza was the Newtown shooter, rather than Adam, is just one example of viral news that was untrue.

  7. First, I think it is imperative for the sustainability of the news industry that prominent news outlets such as NYT and Newsweek embrace and use internet technology, social media etc., in order for them to keep up with the times, and to avoid losing business to online outlets. It’s of course also a positive change that more people have access to information. In addition, we have more “journalists” coming out of the developing world and reporting from the ground on events they have personal stake in. However, this is also problematic because of false reports and rumors being interpreted as news (ie. Gaddafi being pronounced dead every day for two months before his actual death).

    Second, I do think there has been a sort of cheapening of the news in the last decade. I am for the most-part alluding to Newsweek, and the changes made under Tina Brown. Going all digital at this point is jumping-the-gun, and alienated many readers. In fact, I would argue that the direction newsweek is going in, and has been going in for the last couple years, is one that choses sensationalism over journalistic professionalism (I reference the newsweek cover titled Muslim Rage that was subsequently mocked on social as one example of this). Although this comes off as a diatribe against newsweek, I think it should be taken as a warning against too hastily embracing electronic journalism at the expense of quality. Call me conservative, but I prefer to leaf through my economist without a blinking add for the pair of shoes I looked at on zappos.com the other day menacing my concentration, and I think many, not just old-folks, would agree.

  8. I think newspapers are making cuts to permanent staffs because they’re starting to rely on freelancers. This is especially true when it comes to foreign news reporting. I studied abroad in Egypt last winter and there were quite a few people attempting to break into foreign news reporting by simply moving to where the action is and without any formal training or fiscal/editorial support snuck onto the Syrian border to report in one of the most dangerous war reporting zones for journalists in recent history (there are a lot of solid sources that claim that the Assad regime was deliberately targeting journalists). They got published in some of the big mainstream news, but had to post up the money for living expenses and what not (which means only a certain demographic of people have access to freelance reporting-those who can afford to pay their own way until they start getting published).

    I think this means that there is less accountability and in-depth reporting and, even worse, very little safety for journalists since freelancers don’t have the support or resources that staffers have. Furthermore, even though I love reading through a physical copy of the newspaper, the truth is that online access is far more convenient. There is little incentive to pay for news when blogs (I’m talking about blog giants like Gawker media) can just sort of regurgitate news stories for readers for free. Even though the NYtimes/Washpost and so on are doing the actual reporting legwork, there’s less of an incentive for people to actually want to pay for news. But, I think the non-profit model of ProPublica/Center for Investigative Reporting and so on could be a sustainable way to maintain in-depth reporting. That’s the worst part of the social mediaization of the press, everyone is so eager to beat everyone to the story that half-truths and rumor end up being stated as fact. There is a price to pay for democratization of the newspaper industry. If anyone can do it, where is the incentive to pay journalists? The only people who can afford to make it in journalism are the well-off. Furthermore, everyone can go to their own respective corners of the internet to reinforce their worldview. Rightwing blogs that are widely read reported this week that Chuck Hagel has donated money to “Friends of Hamas,” obviously a made up group, but it’s already out there as fact to those who want to hear it.

  9. To be honest, I never gave much thought on the paper/web media situation. It is very interesting that this shift actually affects our culture, and goes beyond a debate only about money. It is natural that the media world would go through those big changes in time, just like when television came and changed the way printed media was conducted. Printed media was not the same anymore, but it survived. That is probably what will happen in this new paradigm: we are seeing huge changes, but it does not mean that paper based media will disappear.
    Plus, Leah raised a really good point on the irony of our discussion!

  10. Money money money right? It was hard for me to get through the paywall article because all it talked about was money! I have a hard time understanding why that is interesting. I get that basically everything the papers are doing is in order to make more money, not surprising. Makes me even less inclined to read the news now.

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