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Retraining Newspaper Editors and Reporters for Internet Work

Last summer a friend and I discussed starting a retraining program for downsized print media employees - editors and journalists, whose jobs aren't going to come back. Newspapers and magazines have entered a circulation death spiral, and while there will be some survivors at the other end of the recession, the age of the universally available daily newspaper or weekly print magazine is clearly at an end. The main strategy that current media moguls and their advisors are following is to ramp up their Internet activities, but I have bad news for them. There's only room for a few branded newpaper websites to make any hay reporting on national and international news, ie, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, maybe the Washington Post and a west coast paper like the LA Times. The rest can only hope to draw traffic for local news, and it won't pay the bills for an extensive staff. In fact, the small advertising supported weekly newspapers that are given away free in many regions may be in better shape to survive with the help of a website than the local flagship newspaper.

The reason writers and editors who worked in newspapers and magazines need retraining is that the move online requires a new mindset, not just a different wordprocessor. The number of "newsroom" jobs for these jobseekers will be extremely limited. The two main options will be to transition to working directly for businesses or institutions maintaining their web presence, or to go into business for themseves as information entrepreneurs. Since the latter career path invoves working on spec and a long start-up period with little or no returns, it's not an option for a breadwinner watching the time run out on unemployment benefits. But the transition to writing and managing web content for businesses and other orgainizations with websites should be relatively easy and lucrative.

The main goal of a retraining program would be to instill belief in the universal value of a freely accessible resource for every type of entity that serves people - whether customers, citizens or anyone inbetween. The reason for instilling this belief is to make it possible for the out-of-work reporter or editor to make a convincing case for why the potential employer should hire that individual. In order to instill that belief, I would show how a single individual can achieve the same circulation (daily visitor count) as a small town newspaper without the overhead of, for example, a small town newspaper:-) And circulation that is driven by search becomes highly targetted, which means those visitors are the ones who are most likely to be interested in the products or services offered by the organization.

There's a lot of resistance on the part of "journalists" to the idea of becoming "technical writers", but Internet content is much better characterized as journalism than technical writing. And unlike the print media, which is characterized by a "few to many" model, where a small number of individuals communicate their ideas and biases to a very large number of individuals, the Internet is characterized by a "many to many" model. I'm not talking about the feedback mechanism of comments on blogs, it's the publication mechanisim that depends on search ranking that drives the "many to many" aspect. As long as search ranking gives heavy precedence to the number and quality of incoming links, as it does now, the visibility of websites truly is driven by the wisdom (or voyeurism) of crowds.

The Internet is all about specialization, which is why the website model won't work for a large number of overhead laden newspapers magazines hoping to monetize through advertising. The only local print advertising that really makes sense for merchants these days is space ads for local retailers. The whole classified category is better served by specialist sites, from Craigslist to Ebay and Trulia. One day somebody will come up with a one-stop website for announcements that will meet the legal requirements for advertising probate or bankruptcy auctions, and that will be the end of newspaper classifieds altogether.

Trade publisher employees face similar lay-offs and retraining requirements, but they have a headstart over journalism types, in the sense that they are used to thinking about information as content rather than news.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Morris,

thank you again for good advice & nice video.

I hope you don't mind me asking, but you're not related to Andrew Bossom are you?

see his video:
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=ySMtbpxygC4

IG

Thomas Huynh said...

Morris,

Do you know what my #1 complaint about news websites is? Not always having a printable format. The computer screen is to browse but for me to read a news story, it has to be on good old-fashioned paper.

Original news sources should all grow backbones and start charging other people to display their news reports, especially since so many blogs and consolidators present themselves as a news "source" even though they're nothing more than regurgitation.

Thomas

Morris Rosenthal said...

IG,

I love a rerun:-)

Looks like Andrew hasn't been taking his meds. We, I mean I, on the other hand, stay the hell away from doctors.

Morris

Morris Rosenthal said...

Thomas,

Interesting. I know when I used to read Israeli newspapers online my main complaint was the lack of ability to print a whole section, nicely condensed, so I could take it to a coffee shop.

But of course, their business model (to the extent that they have one) to to display ads.

I pay for the one newspaper I read both online and in print, the Wall Street Journal, but I stand by my earlier assertion that there's only room online for a very limited number of newpapers doing national and international news.

The AP wire stories that decorate so many sites don't make them news sites, it makes them buyers of AP ontent.

Morris

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