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Good Advice on Changing from Print to Digital Model

by Anne Thompson
March 27, 2011 9:07 AM
8 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

It's tough for newspaper owners and execs to recognize that the days of large staffs and high exec pay are gone. That's why so many publications hang onto print for dear life, because the ads are worth so much more than online advertising. But I have never forgotten what Marc Andreessen once said to Charlie Rose: every newspaper should stop printing NOW and figure out how to survive online. Journal Register Company (JRC) CEO John Paton (@jxpaton) addressed newspaper execs via "Ten Tweets to Transform Newspapers":


From MediaXchange 2011 stage my Ten Tweets To Transform Newspapers - starting now #naamxc11 #jrc jxpaton
March 26, 2011 at 7:48

1. “the newspaper model is broken & can’t be fixed"

2. “newspapers will disappear in less than10 years unless their biz model is changed now”

3. “the new newspaper model must become digital first and print last”

4. “the new newspaper model must now only allocate resources to the new news ecology”

5. “stop listening to print people and put the digital people in charge - of everything”

6. “newspapers must invest in content, sales & disruption – sell or outsource everything else”

7. “trust the crowd & especially your youngest employees they will lead the needed experiments”

8. "complaint: newspaper dollars becoming digital dimes: response: start stacking the dimes"

9. “digital first works #jrc digital audience grew 75% now more digital audience than print in less than 1 year”

10. “digital first works: #jrc digital revenue up 70% Q1 ‘11 vs Q1 ‘10 – real growth not newspaper voodoo bundling metrics”

[Hat Tip:Jeff Jarvis.]

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More: Web/Tech, Media, Twitter

8 Comments

  • Mike | March 29, 2011 6:28 AMReply

    GL wrote: "No one sits in front of their computer and read news like a newspaper.

    I agree with @RealDogBoy's comment. I have not read a newspaper in over 10 years. I get my news via screen throughout the day as it happens and is followed-up with developments. This immediacy and on-the-fly updating is reason alone to abandon the print model, not to mention the ability to access countless sources for a well-rounded perspective instead of relying on a few locally available editorial voices. I don't know what sites @GL visits but articles I read online are as in-depth or more than their print counterpart. I just browsed through a coworker's newspaper and like a decade ago, most articles are in fact little more than padded echoes of their headlines, tid-bits repeated or reworded several times to fill columns.

    @GL also writes: "This reminds me of the radio and how when television came people said, "this is the end of radio"."

    The radio survival example only bolsters John Paton's foreboding advice for newspapers. Radio formatting of the past several decades is completely different than what it was at the dawn of the television age. Had broadcasters held fast to audio dramas and variety shows instead of radically adapting, commercial medium would certainly be RIP.

  • Billy Shears | March 29, 2011 4:12 AMReply

    The newspaper industry is DEAD.... In my past I could not begin my day without reading through 3 Chicago Newspapers and the USA Today. I strongly disagree with the comment that no one gets their news in front of a computer ... That is how i have been doing it for more than 5 years now..

    I no longer buy any type of newspaper and I was addicted to the hard copy print my ENTIRE life.... When I see newspapers on the stand I think " OLD INFORMATION" as I can just jump online and read what i want ...

    It is done I will never buy a single Newspaper my whole life... I have converted away form the hard copy many years ago and will never go back...

    Traditional newspapers seem so ancient !!!!!!!!!

  • Anne Thompson | March 28, 2011 11:44 AMReply

    Arianna Huffington may be right about a hybrid model. Andreessen and Paton are right too when they argue that as long as papers rely on the print model to pay their overhead, they won't learn how to make best use of the internet--because they won't have to.

    I read a newspaper every morning, but I am feeling guilty about it. So much paper waste. I am finally ready to switch my reading to an iPad and get rid of all my paper piles. More and more I'm reading on my blackberry and laptop. On a recent airplane flight, I was reading my messy newspapers, which weighed heavily in my bag, as the folks on either side neatly read zineo, one on a laptop, the other on an iPad.

    I will still subscribe to Time, the NYT and LAT, online. They are more authoritative, more accurate, more contextually smart than many online sources. But in my movie world, my sources of good intel are varied, and are not always established media.

  • Will Doak | March 28, 2011 10:01 AMReply

    "Newspapers must invest in content, sales & disruption."
    As an old editorosaur, I would have questioned the word 'disruption' ought have been 'distribution.' But apparently none of the new media readers buying into this scrap the foolscap creed question typos. They probably have been replaced with puzzled emoticons. |:-=o|
    The need for editors and proofreading aside, as a weekly newspaper owner I am more certain our palpable little weekly newspaper has great value in our town, serves the true mission newspapers were created to serve in the first place - disseminating news and advertising from our town's merchants, professionals and service providers - and remains viable online as well. This scalable and sustainable model does not resort to euphemistic promises but actually manages to bring customers into the local businesses with a coupon clipped from an actual newspaper, a newspaper advertisement the small business person can afford. The NYT still uses a two-page ad to bring customers into Macy's last weekend. The event was not 'crowdsourced' or the result of a 'mash-up' of Tweeted Facebook invitations. I am not saying Journal Register's approach is wrong. There is no right or wrong approach unless you have a loan to repay and anxious lenders waiting in the wings. Interestingly enough, Editor and Publisher, which spent years holding up Journal Register as the epitome of corporate failure, now honors the leadership of John Paton and I think that is great. Well deserved, and he is putting his classroom beliefs into action. I hope he succeeds tremendously. But while E&P was pillorying JRC, it was easy to discover the billions owned by the parent of that industry icon, and the fact that they did not publish for a time, they all of a sudden a magazine arrived again in the mail must reveal that something is awry in this digital first universe in which only part of the picture is ever told.
    If Macy is wrong to forswear a double-truck print ad in the NYT for a fancy website or electronic, non-palpable form of communication that is their business to be sure. But it is the newspaper's business to be here for them if they are right - not to abandon the proven medium of democracy which gave us the First Amendment. The urgency of this debate is being driven by "monetization" of "content". This is how news corporations view what it is we old guys pecking away on keyboards and sizing pixels do. In a world where the internet can be turned off with one switch with a cry of 'homeland security', we should not surrender so lightly freedom the mechanical press has earned for us, bled ink for us, debated ideals and sweated to deliver to us since before the founding of the nation.
    What, then, of the future? Unlike the digital first crowd, which spends nearly as much time making pronouncements and forecasts of doom as it does actually gathering news - all without venturing down to Main Street - the newspaper is sort of like American Idol. We are not in a big hurry to pronounce the winner on the first show, but would rather hear the talent sing. One song does not a Eleanora Fagan make.
    Perhaps Ariana Huffington said it best when she observed that the future is more likely to be a hybrid one of newspapers and internet both. That makes more sense to me. Digital first may ultimately win the day. Perhaps Moses would have been better off not wasting so long on those tablets that his twitter followers started worshiping golden idols. Yes, God's wisdom was lass than 140 characters. But I wonder if his followers would have forsaken their newsrooms had he not come down from the mountain but issued the 10 commandments as tweets.

  • RealDogBoy | March 28, 2011 9:29 AMReply

    GL wrote: "No one sits in front of their computer and read news like a newspaper."

    That's exactly how I've been getting my news for about 15 years. I'm not alone.

    News publishers have to adapt to a new reality. I think we're still in the early stages of learning how to make money from online content.

    Note that the New York Times is starting (today, 3/28) a new experiment with a "pay wall". The last time they tried it, it didn't work so well but they've tweaked it differently this time.

    Good topic -- thanks Anne.

  • Brian | March 28, 2011 4:26 AMReply

    I have the New York Times delivered to my door. When newspapers all go digital, I'm not sure what I'll do. I'll probably slowly get into the habit of looking at the news on-line, but I won't like it. Maybe I'll get an iPad or something, so I can read in bed or on the toilet. I'll adapt, but it'll take a while.

  • Jonathan Sullivan | March 28, 2011 3:43 AMReply

    You just made all the print tycoons break their monocles in frustration.

  • GL | March 28, 2011 2:51 AMReply

    There will always be newspapers. Online news is not even real news, it's more of tidbit. No one sits in front of their computer and read news like a newspaper. It's just not done that way. This reminds me of the radio and how when television came people said, "this is the end of radio". I agree that the world is getting digital, but I find it to be actually slowing in contrast to the beginnning of the century.

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