Apocalypse 6: Supply and Demand

By , 10 August, 2008, No Comment

This is the 6th in a series of posts about the struggles of print journalism, the many experts who are convinced its days are numbered, and the (attempted ) innovations of news organizations trying to stay alive.

One of the common refrains among print journos these days is that since information breaks online instantly, no daily or weekly publication can be in the business of hard news gathering. Instead, they should offer analysis, perspective, a “take” on the headlines or broad trend stories that have no links to the headlines at all. That’s what an editor at a major news mag told me on Friday. Looking at sales and ad figures for American magazines, he says that the ones doing best offer a lot of opinion, a clear political stance and very little in the way of timely information. He suggests that that’s what the internet age readers want: print content that supplements but doesn’t compete with what they get online. Print publications that try too hard to be newsy will get left behind.

But just last week, one of the most active internet readers I know, tells me he wants more. not less, news from print organs like the NYTimes. Jon doesn’t read the Times opinions pages (although they are often the site’s most emailed links) because “there’s too much opinion” out there on the web already from bloggers galore. What he wants is some cold hard reporting to help ground him after a day reading diatribes from the internet’s self-made pundits.

In principle, these two arguments are the same: print organizations should fill in the gaps left behind by the internet. But given the magazine sales figures and Jon’s reading habits, it seems like neither news nor opinion represents such a supply gap.

Both information and perspective abound online, but rarely on all subjects and on the same websites. So what print organizations can do is become aggregators, partnering with and bringing together the expertise of various blogs with small additions of their own. That’s the path the Washington Post, the Guardian and Conde Nast have taken already, and it’s my prediction for the way forward.

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