Adapting-to-the-World Fail

November 29, 2008

In the grand tradition of FailBlog.org, print journalism has been stuck in a steady Adapting-to-the-World Fail holding pattern for quite awhile now. Over at Publishing 2.0, Scott Karp and Robert Young write about this regularly, with regular backlash from entrenched print journalists whose ink-stained glasses apparently let them ignore all technology advancement since Fletch.

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Back in the ’90s, most newspapers saw the Internet as an unrelated, passing fad. Like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong. Admittedly, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and their 8-bit cohorts aren’t as popular as they once were. But their grandkids have grown up to be a $9.5 billion industry. The Internet went through a similar, over-enthusiastic period. And while much of the hype was more over-blown than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade decorations, there have been several legitimate behemoths born out of the Internet – Google, Amazon and Facebook to name a few.

The newspaper industry, however, failed to adapt to the changing world and how their consumers were getting media. And now, newspapers all over the country are bemoaning their state. As examined in a great piece by KCUR, the Kansas City Star is a perfect example of the modern newspaper dilemma: a corporate entity expects the same bottom line when it hasn’t adapted to the new, online marketplace. When that doesn’t happen, the corporation makes cuts.

The industry of news readership, however, isn’t dead. As KC Star Publisher Mark Zieman points out, news readership seems to actually be growing. The problem, then, is not a lack of audience. People still want to be informed and to understand their world.

Just as news readership isn’t dying, online journalism is not hopeless. With some leading the way (the Lawrence Journal World and Washington Post, for example) newspapers are slowly adapting to the online realm, where advertisers want to spend more money. The problem, then, is not just making money. Advertisers will pay newspapers once newspapers are a worth-while option again.

The problem, then, seems to be making enough money to satisfy corporate owners. And because the newspaper industry simply does not have the market monopoly it once did, that may no longer be possible. Corporate ownership is good for securing longevity, but it’s not known for agility or innovation. If corporate ownership and its bottom lines can’t find a better fit within modern journalism, then a new breed of agile, independent news sources seems set to take up the banner.

With so many excellent journalists being flushed into the market, and the overhead for Web sites so much smaller, the era of profitable news consolidation may be in its twilight. Distribution is no longer the barrier it was in the age of the printing press. Many online-only publications have already succeeded in this: Politico and Ain’t It Cool News, for example. While the profits of these organizations will never match News Corp, they don’t have to. When you’ve got a Yankee’s payroll, you can’t afford Royal’s attendance. But if you’ve got a T-Bone’s payroll, a Royal’s attendance is a record. And if you’ve got a T-Bone’s payroll with Yankee’s talent, people will come, Ray.

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