Christian Science Monitor's move online
The Christian Science Monitor's move to primarily online was neither a surprise nor a yardstick by which to judge whether a primarily online-only news operation can be a success. David Sullivan has a succinct explanation from back in July.
Still, as the Chicago Tribune says, it's "intruguing," It will certainly give us another data point to see what seems to work, much as Madison (more here) has and the move of the Superior, Minn, paper primarily on line also has. (mention at end of article)
But each is a special case. The Monitor, though it has nationwide and worldwide reach, is largely popped up by church money and has few ads -- yet that might give us some insight into the nonprofit model that has been mentioned as one of the range of alternatives as the media world evolves.
Madison was a PM paper in an AM world, and the forces were two strong for even its liberal bent to save it in that college city. But it has a strong AM partner. Superior is another case where there is a strong partner paper -- Duluth -- nearby.
We have not yet seen any true general circulation newspaper test this model that I am aware of. Greensboro' s John Robinson, in his editor's blog earlier this year, ruminated on the prospects in his city and did not see things ready for it yet. Partly he was reflecting on the "revelation" that the core audience for news is not that big. (You really should read the paper that Rich Gordon links to. But why is this a revelation to anyone? Remember, newspapers -- and broadcasters -- did not make their money from news, but from controlling access to it.)
(A very salient comment on Robinson's post from Mike Oren of Pegasusnews: And step one is to realize that while "The core audience for news just isn't that big," you have a lot of assets that aren't traditional news. (Say really deep entertainment listings.) )
If the economic malaise continues, we will, however, see a general circulation paper take the plunge, and I predict it will first be one in the 75,000-150,000 circulation range. Those markets are literally caught between the printing press and the Internet, not large enough to command a lot of national ads (except for the highly dubious "Amish furnace" ones -- you know, buy the handcrafted enclosure and we'll throw in this lovely furnace for free), yet not small enough to be so hyperlocal that a handful of people can adequately cover an area.
Those are the ones for whom the bell tolls.