pontinYou 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.”

Comments

comments

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.

4 Comments

  1. May 5, 2009 @ 3:15 pm



    Lets take a look at the solution:

    * Shrink circulations to profitable levels and don’t give away free the stuff that people pay for;

    Shrinking is circulation unnecessary with the internet, but the second part is essential, so check.

    * Offer a wide range of subscription options, making it easy for people to receive information in whatever frequency, format and volume they choose;

    RSS does that. so check.

    * Don’t fixate on platforms. Deliver information through whatever media or channels readers choose;

    As long as its essentially not costing the publisher anything, check. In fact its their source of revenue. (RSS via the Post Office for $)

    * 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;

    How about if you know to which address, when and how a piece of ‘news” was delivered. No more nebulous hand waving about metrics, because EVERY transaction is recoded.

    * 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.

    You are faced with a choice between:

    1) picking from the growing pool of people with Journalism degrees, but they will not be full time journalist because they’re aware of the realities of the job market
    OR
    2) pay for some full time journalists and editors.

    The reality is you’re probably going to do some mix of both, depending on what the budget allows for.

    * 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.

    The readers want journalists to dig up dirt for them, and will be quite willing to support the efforts of a news gathering organization that does just that.

    The answer to the question “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (“Who watches the watchers?”[1]) is “Everybody, in their own areas.” which is going to require some iron clad “Whistle-blower” laws to protect all those J-School students.

    And before you disclaim the idea as too expensive, there are a million ‘grand-ma’s and other people who would love to get some protection for being “Nosy Parkers” and they were the foundation of Communist China.

    And all those J-School students will go out and “listen”. When there’s something to report on, they will but not to any government authority. They’ll report it instead to their own blogs.

    Deal with that…

    1] I’m NOT making a movie reference here, its from the Roman poet “Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis” a.k.a. “Juvenal”

    Posted by msbpodcast
  2. May 5, 2009 @ 11:53 pm



    While many of Pontin’s points are intriguing, innovative and pregnant with possibilities for success, all such analyses will continue to be useless verbiage until someone actually takes his (or some other) formula and builds a profitable media company with it.
    Until that happens, Pontin and other self-pronounced creative geniuses are just strutting past the graveyard.

    Posted by r.f. stinson
  3. May 6, 2009 @ 4:25 am



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