Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More on the future of Newspapers

From the San Diego Transcript

By Elizabeth Malloy,

"With the closure of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News on Friday, a long predicted scenario appeared closer than ever to becoming a reality: the extinction of the big city newspaper.

Journalists bemoan the death of metropolitan papers because, they argue, it saps the citizenry of an objective source of news about the world around them. That, and these papers take hundreds of jobs with them to the grave.

But it’s not just the information landscape that changes when a big paper collapses; it’s also the world of marketing. Once inseparably intertwined, some experts are predicting that the world of news reporting and advertising might be parting ways.

“It’s not really a crisis of journalism,” said Geneva Overholser, the director of the school of journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. “It’s a crisis of what is effective for advertisers.”

Newspapers traditionally generate the vast majority of their revenue from ads. The price subscribers and other readers pay for the paper only covers about 20 percent of the cost, according to Overholser, a former editor of the Des Moines Register who also worked for the Washington Post and The New York Times.

... the state of newspapers brings to mind an old advertising term: marketing myopia. That’s when an organization’s vision of what it wants to do for a business is too narrow. In wanting to simply deliver news and inform, she said, newspapers kept their scope too small.

Maria Kniazeva, an assistant professor of marketing who teaches graduate courses at the University of San Diego, however, said most advertisers haven’t yet harnessed the full power of the Internet.


She said not enough advertisers have fully realized the drastic change of reading habits that have occurred in the last 10, even five years. The large captive audience of a newspaper is gone.

“We snack on information,” she said. “We are not committed.”

...Overholser, the director of USC’s school of journalism, said she still worries about general news finding the support it needs in an environment that is so driven by specific interests.

“General news has a way of not being very advertiser friendly. What kind of ads do you put next to a story about a fire?” she said. “I do have confidence in this: That is, nobody has figured out yet in the journalism world how to pay for general content, and no one in the advertising world has figured out what the next model is.”

Jeff Klein, an adjunct professor at the Annenberg School at USC, pointed out that so far, the newspapers that have closed or could potentially close soon are in regions with two papers. Denver still has the Denver Post, which was larger than the Rocky Mountain News even before the close. The Bay Area has several papers. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is struggling, but it has always been smaller than the Seattle Times.

Though in San Diego, there is only one general interest daily, and The San Diego Union-Tribune has been for sale since last summer with no reported buyers.

Klein said ultimately, advertisers and news agencies just might not need each other any more.

Advertisers can go to direct marketing and Internet sites like the many social networking organizations. For people who still want to read good reporting, different models are springing up, he said.

He mentioned the new wave of nonprofit news organizations. He also spoke of a Web site in San Francisco called where people donate money in order to have specific stories written. For example, if you’d like to see an investigative report on the Oakland school system, you’d donate $20, and hope others would too, and a journalist will write it.

“There will still be reputable news organizations,” Klein said. “They just won’t be called newspapers.”

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