Saturday, July 15, 2006

Signals of fundamental change

Tim Porter notes in a First Draft post this morning that news companies' financial results and subsequent cutbacks are more than indications of capitalism at work in the boardrooms, They are also signals of the fundamental shift in how our audiences get and want to get their news.

For journalists working in newspaper newsrooms, consider these financial reports as a series of wake-up calls, the quarterly tolling of a bell that tolls for thee, my friends.

The digital newspaper future is already here - and it's not one most journalists would have invented, but if they don't seize control of the change process then someone else, someone from the boardroom, will do it for them.

I think he's absolutely right. He notes the recent Dow Jones strategic initiative that begins, "We live in a digital age that is fundamentally changing how people get their news and information," a memo worth reading over here at Poynter.

We've been saying a lot of this for some time now at McClatchy, and you'll be hearing a lot more in coming weeks. It's on the agenda for our first meeting joining editors from new McClatchy and McClatchy classic papers in South Carolina next week. We'll surely talk about it in Ft. Worth when we all gather next month. I hope many of you think contribute thoughts about it here, in comments and postings.

We need to be urgently engaged in this. Please join in.
–Howard Weaver


  1. I'm interested in how others view this point, but it seems to me that the financial results reflect more of a fundamental shift in how commerce is being conducted through advertising than in news preferences. There is no doubt that the Web is a news medium of the future, but the fragmented audience is just that: some 40 percent of adults are not online, and many people who are online are not reading news. So I think part of the discussion might be less about audiences shifting from one place to another than audiences fragmenting and going to 10 different places. That's a much bigger challenge.

  2. No doubt the changes are at least as profound on the revenue side as the content side. In both cases, part of the big shift is "disintermediation," or cutting out the middle man. And in the historical model, in both cases the middle man was us.

    But there's still a lot of life left in the audience-aggregation-advertisment model we know so well, and more opportunity in the context-related advertising we're learning to master. Clearly, we'll be delivering to far more niches on far more platforms, and that in turns introduces still more opportunity.

    There's also a huge financial issue involved with the cost structures newspapers built up over the decades of the Fat Dumb & Happy era of newspaper economics. Those will have to change. (Digital delivery is, of course, way cheaper than print, but we're in the sometimes awkward position right now of doing both, and profiting only a little from one. But that's changing.

    Your fragmentation scenario is right, too -- maybe even understated. Yet I'm pretty confident of two things: that there remains a substantial and profitable audience for shared, communal information; and that we can serve a lot of these niche platforms from a sophisticated, centralized newsroom as we learn more.

    This will require a lot of adaptation and calibration -- ready, fire, aim -- as I was arguing in the "evolution" post below. But I think it's well within our capacity.