News Leadership 3.0

October 28, 2008

Monitor: Daily “paper” no more

In an experiment worth watching, the Christian Science Monitor will become an online platform with a weekend print magazine starting next April

The venerable Christian Science Monitor is going to drop daily print publication beginning in April. The Monitor will publish a print weekend edition.

This sounds like an inevitable (and thus smart) move for a newspaper that, as Poynter’s Rick Edmonds points out, bears significant printing and national distribution costs while attracting little advertising. The Monitor relies on subscription payments and it receives a hefty subsidy from the Christian Science Church ($12 million this year).

Ken Doctor argues that the math for this transition still doesn’t work without a subsidy. Doctor captures the Catch 22 in which most traditional print organizations find themselves:

“Today, dailies can look at similar arithmetic to the Monitor’s: How much do I save in physical and distribution costs in greatly reducing the print product (Monday?; Tuesday? and more)? How much do I forsake in print revenue? How much can I really gain in online ad revenue how quickly?

“Written on the back of the envelope or large on a whiteboard, the answer is the same: it doesn’t come close to working. Last year, about 92% of all newspaper revenues came from print. That number is declining some, as print ad revenues tank, but no US publisher can claim more than 13% digitally-based revenues today. Newspaper companies have simply failed to make a transition fast enough.

“Within the arithmetic, publishers cannot maintain anything close to the size of newsrooms (vital content creation going forward) or size of their ad staffs (vital sales connections as local online-only revenue becomes big and real). What would be needed to flip the switch: subsidy.

“Sure, we can call it investment, deferment of profits, whatever. But really, what we’re saying is stopgap funding is needed to let journalism companies get from here to there, from this mainly print today to the mainly digital tomorrow. The conversation, amid the rising newsroom toll, has got to move to where that funding can come from. Otherwise, the circulation declines we saw yesterday will gain even more velocity.”

It remains to be seen whether news companies will make that investment. Certainly, debt-sadddled companies such as Media News, Tribune and McClatchy may not be able to afford the reinvest limited revenues. Even independent news companies (The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, for example) and the privately-held (note the Newhouse retrenchment in Newark) are pulling back.

Our newsrooms will be even smaller
. The leadership challenge then is daunting. Newsrooms have become largely reactive —managing layoffs, reorganizing staff and cutting journalism and product in cycles. That may get a news organization to the next round, but how much farther? The Monitor shift may signal a more strategic approach that envisions the news operation of five years from now and builds towards it —builds down the cost of the operation and builds up its digital capacity. While the Monitor has a subsidy to fall back on, other newsrooms may have to look to their corporate bosses for more room to envision and build a realistic future.

Comments

Tipping?  What on earth does that have to do with the original article?  I’ve tipped my whole life and it doesn’t get me ahead.  I find your point to be baseless.  Tipping is a curtosey.  What gets you ahead is hard work, creativity, and originality, not simply dumping money.  You want proof of that?  Look at congress…they are doing a lot of “tipping”...maybe it wins them votes, but it surmises to failure


The leadership challenge then is daunting .....
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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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