Wednesday, October 29, 2008

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.

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At 10/29/08, 5:49 PM, Blogger Davisull said...

In line with deep entertainment listings, I remember John Greenman, formerly of Columbus Ga., speaking to us not all that long ago but avant le deluge, saying: It's not a given in the long run that any of the companies now involved in news will stay in it. You can make more money in lots of other ways.

If news was to some degree the "now that we've got your attention" carnie barker, it can still work as that -- but really, what's the motivation for the Flim Flam Republican-Reminder to cover news if it makes more money doing entertainment listings and other "community affairs" things.

Would it make as much sense for a 75,000 circulation newspaper to simply get out of the news business entirely and just become a community activities site at which if you had news, you could post it -- I know there is nothing revolutionary about this except that there always is the belief in our minds that even online, newspaper companies will still maintain a news-gathering operation. But in the end -- why? Even newspaper companies will eventually realize that news is not economical.

At any rate, we're still seeing falling back on the Internet to cover bad business decisions or other weirdnesses. The ongoing debacle in Mesa is yet another example of a newspaper trying to forcibly create a common market for one paper from communities that don't have enough in common -- something that Palo Alto/Redwood City, Calif.; Bellevue/Kent/Auburn, Wash.; and other miscues have showed. (Exactly what were the people in Scottsdale supposed to have in common with the people in Tempe, anyway? Oh, they're all east of Phoenix. And?) The test will come when someone who doesn't absolutely have to do this because they are at death's door does it.


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