Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We need newspapers' deep reads

Will newspapers disappear?

Newsosaur Alan Mutter thinks that could happen. In a two-part analysis, he sees newspapers' older, loyal readers naturally dying off -- and not being replaced by younger ones -- which would bleed circulation revenue and affect the papers' value to advertisers. Meanwhile, if ad revenue continues to decline, newspaper publishers could just decide the product is so costly to produce, they "may not be able to sustain print products for as long as demand holds out," he reasons.

I recalled Mutter's posts today as I read this article in the Columbia Journalism Review. It talks of the pleasure of reading a print newspaper even as it recognizes the many time pressures that, as much as the Internet, blogs and 24/7 news cycles, have come to undermine readership.

The author, a former editor at The Washington Post who appears to be a 2009 buyout/layoff refugee, articulates the split that many see developing: online sites for breaking news and routine information, and print products for depth in words and graphics. The latter might not tip the scales like the San Francisco Panorama (pdf here), but would still provide a satisfying read.

"The only future I can see clearly is one in which newspapers cater to their loyal core," says author Jill Drew. "In my future they serve up superior journalism and charge readers the full freight, no longer relying so heavily on advertisers that are deserting in droves. If people pay more, perhaps they’ll place a higher value on what’s delivered, and spend more time with it. There is a market—I hope, I pray—and I’ll bet it’s larger than just me."

We fellow journalists share that hope. First, however, someone has to find the revenue model that will make these deep reads available. (Remember, even at the $16 list price, the one-time-only Panorama wasn't covering its costs.)

Otherwise, our future will be full of breezy blogs as publishers fulfill Mutter's Newsosaur prediction and give up on print before we do.

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