Dorian Benkoil senior consultant at Teeming Media. An award-winning journalist and editor, he was a foreign correspondent for AP and Newsweek, and international and managing editor for ABCNews.com. At ABC News he moved to the business side, handling sales integration and business development, before joining Fairchild Publications as General Manager for their Internet division, becoming editorial director for mediabistro.com, then a consultant for Teeming Media in New York. He graduates this year with an MBA from Baruch's Zicklin school of business. Learn more about him at Benkoil.com or his blog - MediaFlect.com.
Robert Cauthorn is a journalist, former vice president of digital
media at the San Francisco Chronicle, and was the third recipient of
the Newspaper Association of America's prestigious Digital Pioneer
Award. He launched one of the first five newspapers web sites in the
world and is generally considered to have delivered the first
profitable newspaper web site in 1995. Cauthorn has been in the middle
of the transition from old media to new and is recognized as
frank-talking critic when he believes newspapers stray for their
mission. In mid-2004 he became the president of CityTools, LLC a new
media startup based in San Francisco.
Ben Compaine has divided his career between the academic world and private business. He was a journalist when manual typewriters were considered state of the art, but also led the conversion of his college newspaper to cold type. He has started and managed weekly newspapers. His dissertation at Temple University in 1977 was about the changing technologies that were going to unsettle the landscape of the staid and low profit newspaper industry. Since then he has focused his research and consulting on examining the forces and trends at work in the information industries. Among his most well-known works (and the name of his blog) is "Who Owns the Media?".
Vin Crosbie has been called "the Practical Futurist" by Folio, the trade journal of the American magazine industry. Editor & Publisher magazine, the trade journal of the American newspaper industry, devoted the Overview chapter of executive research report Digital Delivery of News: A How-to Guide for Publishers to his work. His speech to the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference was one of 24 orations selected by a team of speech professors for publication in the reference book Representative American Speeches 2004-2005. He has keynoted the Seybold Publishing Strategies conference in 2000; co-chaired and co-moderated last year's annual Beyond the Printed Word the digital publishing conference in Vienna; and regularly speaks at most major online news media conferences. He is currently in residence as adjunct professor of visual and interactive communications and senior consultant on executive education in new media at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and meanwhile is managing partner of the media consulting firm of Digital Deliverance LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
About this blog
Two forces have shattered the news media. Technology is the first. Although media technology is undergoing its greatest change since the day in 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg first inked type, for more than ten years now the news industry has mistaken new technologies merely as electronic ways to distribute otherwise printed or analog products. Estrangement is the second. The news media has lost touch with people's needs and interests during the past 30 years, as demonstrated by rapidly declining readerships of newspapers and audiences of broadcast news. How we rebuild news media appropriate to the 21st Century from the growing rubble of this industry is the subject of this group weblog.
When I wrote about the expected cut back on home delivery for the Detroit newspapers, the assumption would be that many of the affected customers could access the online sites of the newspapers. I have learned, however, that the alternative to the “paper” paper is a bit more involved. Beyond the traditional Web site, the newspapers will be introducing rather impressive digital editions.
The digital version is more than a Web site. When initially accessed, the user sees a low resolution rendition of the front page on the left of the screen. Clicking on any article brings up the text of the article on the right. In a touch that tries to preserve the traditional flavor of the print paper, the etxt of articles with a jump actually stop where they would on the front page, followed by a link to the jumped page, but then continues with the rest of the article following. It’s an anachronism—but I can see the rationale for this formatting.
Users also have the option to display two pages across in the layout of the actual newspaper. In this format, the cursor changes to a magnifier, so a click on the low rez image enlarges it to a readable size. Yet another option allows downloading individual sections or even the entire newspaper as a pdf file. (Today’s newspaper was a 46 mb ZIP file). As best as I can tell this still needs some work, as each page is a separate pdf file.
The technology is far more amenable to user preferences than the more static approach taken by YuDu or The Sporting News or other previous digital publications’ digital editions.
The notion behind the digital edition is that it is fixed, being a representation of the print version. It is not updated 24/7. It IS the printed paper, digitally rendered. There is no ink to rub off or newsprint to toss out, but otherwise it has the benefits—pages randomly accessible – and drawbacks—fixed in time—as the print edition. Users are advised to go to the paper’s Web site for updates and breaking news.
I also tried it on my iPhone and it worked well, with the usual caveat of the iPhone’s small screen. But I could use all of the digital version’s functionality. Apparently the digital edition does not use Flash or any other non-browser standard technology.
The digital Free Press (and any other newspaper that adopts a similar technology) won’t appeal to everyone. Nothing does. SmartPhone access can provide some flexibility for mobile use, but is not a satisfying substitute. Reading a digital version, even on a nice widescreen monitor, is confining to a fixed place. But it is not hard to see the possibilities. If compatible with e-readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle or the newly introduced iRex with a 10” “paper” screen, the portability issue and the form factor hurdle recede.
Of course, the technologies only address the economics of the newspaper. They do not solve the enduring bigger question: Who will be paying to buy a newspaper, digital or otherwise?
The auto industry is not the only one in Detroit that is hurting badly. The Wall Street Journal reported today that The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News will cease home delivery four days a week. The two newspapers are independently owned (by Gannett and MediaNews Group, respectively) but operate under a joint operating agreement that handles business operations for both papers, including delivery.
It’s no surprise that newspapers have been hurting, but the Detroit papers seem to be failing faster than those in other cities. Circulation of the papers is down between 15% (Free Press) and 22% (News), a long term slide that has no doubt been exacerbated by the troubles particular to Detroit’s major business.
The official announcement, expected next week, specifically refers to home delivery, suggesting that the papers will continue to print hard copies daily, with distribution limited to newsstands the four non-delivery days. The digital versions will continue as well.
I would have to assume that, if this comes to pass, the green eye shade folks have figured out the savings for this half-a-loaf strategy. I need to be convinced. If they do indeed still turn the presses every day, then the only savings are the variable costs of ink, newsprint, and delivery costs for the home delivered copies. All other fixed first copy costs stay the same. Subtracted from the savings is the lower advertising rates that could be charged for those days, reflecting lower circulation. The cut back is expected to be accompanied by a dramatic redesign of the print editions, which may have some cost implications. I guess we should wait for the details to make a final judgment.
The pending announcement makes very real the current virtual office pool in media circles, the winner being closest to predicting when the first major city newspaper would announce it would become an online-only service. Indeed, we may have a winner. in his column last week on media predictions for 2009, Business Week columnist Jon Fine included this precocious prophecy: “More than one newspaper in a top-100 market ceases publication or reduces its print edition to something unrecognizable as a daily newspaper.” Had he heard the scuttlebutt about Detroit, or is he just that good? (Fine also wrote “At least one recent, heavily leveraged media deal—Tribune, Univision, Clear Channel, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, I could go on—goes bankrupt. A week later the Tribune company did file for Chapter 11, though that debacle was a bit more foreseeable).
Two months ago, the Christian Science Monitor announced that it would become a weekly in print, along with its continually refreshed Web version. The Monitor has long been suffering so it was even less a surprise that the Tribune filing.
Still, this is quite likely the start of a trend. Some publishers may be emboldened by the Detroit plan to move ahead their own online-only strategy. Others can wait and see how it works out for Gannett and MediaNews, then either follow suit or decide to find other ways to cut costs. My own prediction (drum roll please) if that over the next two or three years more dailies will move to a hybrid platform, akin to Detroit, with less than daily delivery or even printing. The early trickle could become a stampede by the end of the decade, regardless of how fast the economy recovers. Newspaper economics are changing.