I once had an editor with Big Thoughts for the future of journalism. At the time, our newsroom produced one product — a newspaper. We were just starting to add a website. He saw us evolving to where we’d have all sorts of products coming out of the same newsroom — newsletters, maybe magazines, etc.
Somewhere along the way, we stopped thinking in those terms. Now we think only “print” or “digital.” So we mourn when the New Orleans paper cuts circulation days.
This thoughtful Nieman Labs piece focuses on Detroit and its cutbacks — delivery days, staffing, etc. And there’s a terrific quote that all journalists should take to heart:
American newspapers are caught in a bind. They still earn the vast majority of their revenue — around 80 percent — from their print editions. Print ads sell for higher rates; print readers spend more time with the product and make it part of their daily routine. But newspapers are also aware that their attachment to print makes it harder to be fully, natively digital, to respond to audience needs and market opportunities with the agility an online-only outlet can. Those printing presses cost money to own and run; those delivery trucks take a lot of gas. Print is at once newspapers’ most important asset and their greatest albatross.
Then another quote some might find chilling from Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter M.L. Elrick: “Very soon, sooner than most people expect, we’ll only publish on Sunday.”
Scary. But I’m not sure it has to be.
What puzzles me is that the “print” options people see are limited to two:
1. Print a daily newspaper, like we always have.
2. Don’t print it.
Frankly — and I know a lot of fellow journalists will be angry with me — we all know what makes money in print during the week. It’s the Food section. Maybe an Entertainment section.
Why give those up just because you realize the folly of delivering a daily newspaper in which the Sports section has one ad for hair replacement and nothing else?
Why not print a weekly entertainment paper? Maybe a midweek paper that keeps your Food section (and all the grocery circulars) intact? Maybe even a small daily tabloid that includes a few strong stories and a briefs package that might encourage readers to see more online?
Let’s be clear: The daily paper with an A section, B section, C section and D section is going to die. We can’t prevent that.
What we can do is prepare for that future with something innovative, something that satisfies both the people who like reading a print product and people who like something “new.”