The newspaper industry is staying alive, staying alive

John Travolta walks to the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” in “Saturday Night Fever.” (YouTube screenshot)

I was at a conference in Atlanta a few years ago when a speaker told the crowd that the newspaper industry was approaching its sunset.  Further, he said that media brands would soon be irrelevant.

I disagreed with the speaker on both counts.  I still do.

You read the stories about the New Orleans Times Picayune and you might wonder in fact if the speaker knew what he was talking about.  We’re approaching sunset.  The witching hour awaits.

Nope.  We’re in a period of transition.  The newspaper will live on.


I took issue recently with Poynter Editor Julie Moos’ categorization of the Times Picayne’s curbing back of the print product.  She said “As New Orleans prepares for life without a daily newspaper…”

I read that and shook my head.  I tweeted “Perhaps life without a daily [physical] newspaper.”

She countered: “I’d say a newspaper is print by definition just as a website is digital. So there’ll be daily journalism but not a daily newspaper.”

OK.  Fair enough.  I still disagree though.  A newspaper is a newspaper whether it’s printed or it’s in a digital format.

Journalism is journalism

I really like Steve Buttry.  Buttry is the Director of Community Engagement & Social Media at Digital First Media.  I quote Steve often in his simple but powerful statement:  Principles transcend platform.

He was talking about how journalistic principles can remain pure regardless of how the journalism is delivered.  I think it goes further than that.  Simply:  platform doesn’t matter.  The journalism is the journalism.

It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is printed on paper or if its delivered in a pixeled format.  The journalism remains.

iPad is better

I try to send out a nightly email recapping industry-related stories from the day that I’ve read.  One of my all-time favorites came today from a Romenesko post.  Simply titled:  The iPad becomes the evening newspaper.

Roger Fidler, the program director of digital publishing at Reynolds Journalism Institute, conducted an interesting survey.  Perhaps the most interesting finding was this stat:

Compared to a printed newspaper, 60% of large media tablet users and 50% of smartphone owners consider their experience consuming news on their mobile device to be better.

No kidding.  Hear, hear.  It is better.

But….Pay attention!

However, and this is a big however, traditional newspapers must pay attention to the ever-changing landscape.  The quickest way to irrelevance is not put your head in the sand and not pay attention to the industry.  We all have to.  It’s critical.  Pay attention.

Great article today in the Guardian.  The author discusses why “traditional newspapers are about to lose the war against pure players and aggregators.”  This is isn’t just his opinion.  He builds his case through easily accessible metrics.

First he mentions an article from the Wall Street Journal with a terrifically boring headline.  Despite the headline, the story received 938 comments.

The HuffPo rewrote it, sourced it, linked back to it, and gave it a much, much better headline.  The HuffPo version?  More than 7,000 comments.

The HuffPo knows how to get their readers.  Here’s the money paragraph:

The essence of what we’re seeing here is a transfer of value.  Original stories are getting very little traffic due to the poor marketing tactics of old-fashioned publishers. But once they are swallowed by the HuffPo’s clever traffic-generation machine, the same journalistic item will do tens or hundreds of times better traffic-wise.

Traditionalists will shake their heads.  But I agree with the author:

Armed with the conviction their intellectual superiority makes them immune to digital modernity, newspapers neglected today’s Internet driving forces: relying on technology to build audiences and the ability to coalesce a community over any range of subjects – even the most mundane ones.

When I discuss this with seasoned newsroom people on both sides of the Atlantic, most still firmly believe the quality of their work guarantees their survival against a techno-centric approach to digital contents.

I’m afraid they are wrong. Lethally so.


Newspapers will survive.  It will live on a different platform but newspapers will live on.  However, in order to get through this transition, all of us need to pay attention to the industry.  It’s changing.  The readers are speaking up.  We need to listen to them.  We’re not throwing away values.  We’re transitioning.

Follow me on Twitter @jimmyorr.


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