You could do a lot worse than spend the next 20 minutes reading Jason Pontin’s prescription for saving print media on MIT’s Technology Review. Pontin, a veteran magazine editor and reporter, avoids the hysteria, hand-wringing and quick-fix thinking that has dominated arguments over newspapering’s future to argue that the process of “fixing” the print media model will be long and agonizing but ultimately worthwhile.
Keying off of Clay Shirky’s widely circulated essay that basically forecasts the death of print media as we know it, Pontin suggests that a backlash against media anarchy will occur. Internet purists who believe that millions of citizen publishers will upend mainstream media are overlooking the value of that journalism, he argues. The voice of the people can and should be heard, but there will also be a role for those who have the skills to pick through the details, weigh the evidence and offer an impartial perspective.
The problem isn’t that those people are needed; Pontin rightly points out that demand for news content has never been higher. Rather, the business model must change to make professional news organizations viable. Nevertheless, print publishers will have to endure quite a bit of pain to get there. Among other things, they must:
- Shrink circulations to profitable levels and don’t give away free the stuff that people pay for;
- Offer a wide range of subscription options, making it easy for people to receive information in whatever frequency, format and volume they choose;
- Don’t fixate on platforms. Deliver information through whatever media or channels readers choose;
- Get together and settle on some reliable and comparable audience metrics. Fifteen years into the Internet revolution, for example, we still can’t agree on what constitutes an online “reader.” This lack of standardized metrics frustrates advertisers and undermines the quality of the numbers that publishers do provide;
- Shrink editorial departments to levels that can be supported by revenue. Yes, it’s going to hurt and yes, you’ve got to do it.
- Give readers what they want, even if it isn’t what journalists think they should get. The days of force-feeding the audience what editors thought was good for them are over. Deal with it.
There’s lots more. The piece starts off looking like it’s going to be a defense of the status quo but ultimately delivers a thoughtful and practical proscription for change.
Best line: “As I rose through the editorial ranks of various magazines, I was encouraged to cultivate a mild contempt for readers.”
This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 5th, 2009 at 1:31 pm and is filed under BusinessModel, Circulation, Future of Journalism, Journalism, NewMedia, Newspapers, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.