August 05, 2005

Journalism is a Verb, Not a Platform

The message from the New York Times is a powerful one: Journalism is what we do. Print, web and broadcast are delivery vehicles.

The announcement by the Times that it is merging its digital and print newsrooms is the most significant signal to date that the newspaper industry is acknowledging a reality long forecast by online pioneers: The future of news is digital and the future of journalism depends on creating economically viable entities that draw a variety of audiences.

The argument of whether online journalism is different that print journalism is dead.

Bill Keller, executive editor, and Martin Nisenholtz, head of digital operations for the Times, said in a memo to employees:

"By integrating the newsrooms we plan to diminish and eventually eliminate the difference between newspaper journalists and Web journalists." (Emphasis added.)

Other newspapers have preceded the Times to the digital-print marriage altar - notably, the Tampa Tribune and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel - but the Times is an iconic symbol of American print journalism and when it says the walls are coming down, then institutional evolution is clearly afoot.

Newspapers are beginning to get it. As Jeff Jarvis said the other day in reaction to the Times' announcement:

"The essential truth of all this is that a fundamental change in media is driving fundamental change in the market, which should be driving fundamental change in news products, which must cause fundamental change in newsrooms. That is what we are witnessing now. I often hear people say that big-media executives don't get it, that they don't get the imperative for change. Well, they're getting it. They have no choice." (Emphasis added.)

That said, the convergence argument still needs to made to many editors. They don't yet understand that, as Keller and Nisenholtz said, "our readers are moving" and we must follow.

Journalists love facts. So, then, doubting editors wherever your are, here are some data:

 The web grows readership. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reaches, one of this year's winners of APME's convergence awards, increased its readership by 10 percent - about 223,000 readers - via its online presence, a Scarborough Research study found. (By contrast, print circulation is declining at an increasingly rapid rate.)

 The classified model is eroding. Free is the new advertising standard. Traffic to Craigslist, the peer-to-peer, unmediated antithesis of the typical newspaper's locked down, pay-to-play web site, is surging at stratospheric rates, nearly doubling its market share year over year. Advertising is content. Audience draws more audience. Print will lose this contest to online.

 Younger people don't read newspapers; they turn to online for news. Merrill Brown's must-read report, Abandoning the News, found that 18-to-34-year-olds "most frequently" cite and as their daily news source, "with 44 percent of the group using portals at least once a day for news." Newspapers are at 19 percent. The average age of a newspaper reader is 53 (Abandoning the News) and there are things (such at the Minneapolis Star Tribune's experiment with the Readership Institute) newspapers can do to attract younger readers, but no amount print reinvention is going to draw enough eyeballs to underwrite the journalism we want to do. We need that digital audience.


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Posted by Tim Porter at August 5, 2005 12:29 PM

Good to know about platforms ...

All hail the blog?
Blogs are indeed a democratic wonder - the first instance in human history where an ordinary individual can communicate her or his thoughts to the entire planet, instantly, and without editing by the elites of journalism or government BUT Will Blogs Go Bust?

Posted by: Jozef Imrich on August 5, 2005 07:33 PM
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