Out of Time: Print Media’s Rocky Start to 2009
Recent high-profile print media cuts in favour of digital platforms have rekindled the debate over the long-term sustainability of print. New Media Knowledge went to find out what print media can do - if anything - to fight back and maintain editorial quality.
The year has started messily for print media outlets. The Financial Times announced that 80 staff would be laid off across the organisation as the news group focuses more on its digital offering, The Economist Group laid off 13 and Exchange & Mart closed its print edition entirely to focus solely on the Web.
It’s not just here, either. In the US the New York Times is putting advertisements on its front page for the first time in its history as it takes drastic measures to bring in fresh ad money. The debate has moved on since NMK’s panel discussion on the future of print in the autumn and a recent Broadstuff blog post cites and interesting reader comment from another article on the future of the New York Times:
“Print is just a device. The New York Times is not just a newspaper, it’s a news organisation…This isn’t a storm! This isn’t something that’s going to pass! It’s the ice age. People aren’t going to suddenly open their eyes and we’re back in print.”
So, if the New York Times is in this much trouble, is it time to declare print media redundant? Even with good Web hits, traditional media outlets are struggling to turn site visitor numbers into palpable returns. NMK went in search of answers.
Andy McCue is a freelance journalist and former deputy editor of Silicon.com, one of the UK’s first Internet-only news resources specialising in the tech industry. For McCue, the global economic crisis has sped up the demise of print media and the battle now is for digital mindshare but that some new media publishers – such as bloggers – could also suffer from the lack of ad money.
“The advertising shift from print to online has been happening for some time now but has absolutely been accelerated by the current global economic meltdown as companies shift their marketing dollars away from dinosaur print publications with increasingly dwindling readerships to the more accountable digital world,” he told NMK.
McCue believes online publications are also seeing a drop off in advertising at the moment and the companies who are spending money want more bang for their buck.
“[Advertisers want] integrated, better targeted campaigns that engage readers across a variety of digital formats including video, audio and good old fashioned words. In a downturn companies also tend to become more cautious and conservative in their online advertising by sticking to more established publications, which could be bad news for bloggers,” he added.
For Martin Brindley, managing director of marketing agency DMG Europe, a big part of the overall problem of print in the 24/7 news world is not necessary the prevalence of up-to-date news choice online, but the sheer logistics of getting people to pick up a newspaper in the first place.
“The main issue that I believe the quality broadsheets are having is getting their editions into the hands of executives prior to them leaving for the office in the morning where they will be updated on the news of the day through the myriad of online news streams available,” he said. “What I can see happening this year is the UK broadsheets taking the lead from the US model and offering attractive subscription based promotions to its readers to halt the slide.”
Staff cuts can compromise editorial quality as less - and often more junior - staff have more pages to fill in less time. In 2009 will we see more and more citizen journalism or PR-produced content making it into news sources, potentially undermining the integrity of press neutrality and possibly quality of editorial content too?
Kerry Hallard is managing director of London-based public relations firm, Buffalo Communications. She believes that many weakened editorial teams are becoming more open to good PR-generated material, which could be perceived as an opportunity for the PR industry.
“The operative word here is ‘good’ [material]. These times shouldn’t be a license to blitz journalists with sub-standard content. Most will still baulk at a bad release and discard it. But if more are allowed to slip the net it would inevitably result in an overall decline in the standard of published content,” she warned. “These changes put a moral obligation on the [public relations] industry to make sure that every piece of information going to journalists is of the highest quality, completely accurate and well written. Anything less will jeopardise relationships, publication quality and the ongoing working dynamic between journalism and PR."
Philip Balboni, founder of newly-launched Internet news agency GlobalPost, is fairly clear on the future of print media. He told Journalism.co.uk: “The Internet is the only route for journalism in the future. It is on the web that journalism will develop new opportunities and strength.”
For further reading see Silicon Alley Insiders’ predictions for media casualties this year.