At the beginning of my career, I was a newspaper reporter. I worked at weekly newspapers and at daily newspapers in several states before transitioning to other media. The articles I wrote and the news I read was delivered on newsprint. So, I have an intimate appreciation for the varied roles filled by and services provided by newspapers, and an interest in their continued existence.
Earlier this year, a small group of newspaper executives launched NewspaperProject.org, a Web site created “to support a constructive exchange of information and ideas about the future of newspapers.”
As part of its manifesto, the group states, “While we acknowledge the challenges facing the newspaper industry in today’s rapidly changing media world, we reject the notion that newspapers—and the valuable content that newspaper journalists provide—have no future.” In addition, “…this website will be devoted to insightful articles, commentary and research that provide a more balanced perspective on what newspaper companies can do to survive and thrive in the years ahead.”
The NewspaperProject Web site provides much insight from the articles and think pieces that are posted, and further insights from the comments readers post. One of the articles, titled “NYT Executive Editor on why newspapers will survive,” is an extensive question-and-answer “dialogue” between Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, and readers who have submitted questions to the newspaper. In a section of that dialogue, readers cite economic and other factors that have driven them to the online version of the newspaper, but they worry about to overall economic well-being of the New York Time and other newspapers.
Remarked one reader: “I agree with Jill Lepore in the most recent New Yorker [January 26, 2009] that the reports of the death of print journalism, especially the daily newspaper, are wildly premature. As much as I love the New York Times website, I like the print version even more, but at $1.50/copy I now need to be judicious in when I buy it.
“The portability of a broad sheet — properly folded for ease of reading on crowded commuter trains, buses and subways, should sustain The Times for some time to come…. The online version functionally replaces TV for people who think they like to think. …What one gains in depth — e.g. links to primary sources and related information with the online version, one loses in the depth and serendipity of the print version.”
In response to several questions about the future of the newspaper in print versus the Internet, Keller responded: “Why not just cut the huge cost of newsprint and printing plants and live off our digital revenues? For one thing, a lot of people love the printed paper, and it more than pays its own way. For another, revenues from the Web are not yet sufficient to support a great newsgathering operation.”
Elsewhere on the site, a reader commented: “…Papers have cut their marketing to zero. Yet we tell advertisers that they need to stay consistently in the paper for the "thin market concept" (3% of readers are ready to buy your product right now) and retaining their market share. But newspapers do the exact opposite. They are NOT promoting themselves except within their own pages which will not increase market share. And, they only do it occasionally. The reason for this is budget cuts. And marketing is the first thing they cut. And I mean CUT. Like everything in the budget that is not attached to a long-term contract. …You can create all the value in a newspaper, website and mobile applications you want but if you don’t tell the customer who may be interested how do they find out? The solution is to market your products consistently in all media. Promoting the benefits of what a newspaper can deliver will increase market share (readers) and add value to advertisers who will see better ROI.”
For newsprint producers, in particular, the Web site provides useful insights into conditions affecting the business decisions of their customers and might be a forum in which they can participate.
For the pulp, paper, and forest products industries, the Web site provides a constructive and instructive example of steps being taken by executives who care about their industry to preserve and promote that industry.