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Major news outlets transitioning online

by Philip Sellers

This post is a little off topic.  Some of you may know that I met my wife while working on our college newspaper together over 10 years ago.  So, beyond the technology, one of my other niche passions is the news business, particularly magazines and newspapers.  (I, also, hate the 24-hour news and how its declined the quality of news reported, but that’s another post for another day). My wife worked in every type of media possible from newspaper, magazine, radio to TV.  So we’ve been surrounded by the biz (albeit small market) for our entire adult lives.  So its interesting to watch what is happening to the industry at this critical time.  Its also interesting to watch new ideas and new models emerge as the times are changing.

About a year ago (maybe less), I saw a CBS Sunday Morning report about a startup web magazine called The Daily Beast.  It was the newest venture for editor extraordinare Tina Brown of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker fame.  I was really impressed that she was venturing out on a limb and trying to embrace a web only format.  If only some of her contemporaries in the newspaper business had been so forward thinking, but that’s besides the point.  She was just launching an online magazine format – something that I’m not aware has been successfully done before.  

The transition to online news hasn’t been graceful for most magazines and newspapers in the industry, so to see an insider really embrace the new medium is trilling.  Because, what I see so far in The Daily Beast is perspective, fact checking and all of the quality you’d come to expect from the reputable outlets she’s run before.  And that’s just what we need – not the citizen journalism, filled with speculation and rumor, which is made its way in droves on to the “headlines” of print newspapers gasping desperately to survive.  I hate to see the quick headlines – the “I have to get it online first before the TV station ‘scoops’ me” and the “who cares if its true, put it out there first.”  I hate the incomplete reporting – something my local daily is notorious for doing  – “Teens caught trespassing in condemned hotel” – only to leave out the facts of why or when the hotel, a brand new high-rise that opened a year ago, was condemned.  Does anyone remember the inverted pyramid?  Nobody really cares that you got the news first if it is wrong or incomplete.

Today, I clicked on a link to Newsweek to find that their website has been considerably restructured and that they are debuting a significantly overhauled print version in the next issue.  Its easy to see that the print industry is struggling.  Nay sayers have been dooming their business models for years as the Internet has slowly but signicantly chipped away at their readership and profit margin.

The newspaper job exodus has even produced websites devoted to keeping count of the number of cuts.  The New York Times and the Washington Post are stuggling.  Rumors that Geffen might be purchasing the Times were swirling in the news yesterday – speculating that he may try and convert the Times into a non-profit, terming it as a historically significant company that should be preserved.

What I am sure of is that some will survive, but they may look very, very different.  We all thrive on news, but I hope that the sour economy doesn’t reduce the quality of journalism to quick gotchas and tabloid headlines to survive.  I think at this juncture, many more outlets should be looking to innovative ways to restructure, recreate themselves and change the game.  I’m waiting for the first newspaper to abandon the paper and go online only, with an accompanying electronic reader (a la Amazon Kindle) connected to a municipal WIFI (where everyone can get access).  I forsee a day…  What do you think?

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