BitDepth 681 - May 26

Newsprint faces dramatic challenges in an age of fast, free news.
Newsprint, endangered

Web publishing strategies, clockwise from top left; EveryBlock, Chi-Town Daily News, Gamespot and Strobist.

"I love the smell of newsprint in the morning," this columnist told the conference of journalists. "It just doesn't smell like victory anymore."
It was late in the evening, the armpit session in a long day of discussion in Grenada about media among journalists and I was last up to speak on the subject of new media.
Colleague Georgia Popplewell of
Global Voices had already primed the attendees of the Caribbean Media and Communication Conference on the startling immediacy of social networking services. My plan was to establish links between the reality of modern information distribution and traditional media channels.
Forty years ago, I first set foot in the Trinidad Guardian as a delivery boy. In those days the heavy thump of the presses in the bowels of the building meant that the presses were running, lead slugs arrayed into neat rows of reverse type metal stamping ink that would become tomorrow's news.

Today, even the occasional building shaking bounce of a falling roll of newsprint is gone – the printing plant is now rebuilt and relocated to Central Trinidad.
As someone who has written and photographed for the print media for almost all of my life, it's startling to admit this, but I don't miss ink and paper. I sometimes send e-mails to new young publishers keen to introduce a new print publication, drunk with the smell of freshly printed paper and thrill that good typography and photography can bring.
Why? Why bother with the leaden weight, the limited distribution, and market accessibility? 

The crux of the problem
The real issue with newspapers today isn't new media, which, as it turns out, has a lot in common with old media when it comes to attracting readers.
As it turns out, people like to read fact-checked and grammatically correct writing by identifiable writers and web surfers enjoy the work of skilled, creative photographers on the Internet just as much as they did when they bought neatly folded carcasses of dead trees. The most popular blogs written by people using aliases tend to be done that way for sensible reasons, the writing impossible to sustain without anonymity. This too has its antecedents in the print world.

The problem is that revenue is much harder to come by in the virtual world, and it's getting more difficult to find business models that work consistently. Web publications don't have to buy big presses or ship in heavy and ever more expensive newsprint, but they do have bandwidth, server and creator costs that keep rising right along with growing popularity.
Like the information that's available on the Internet, advertising spending is getting sliced thinner and thinner and competition for eyeballs is growing fiercer.

The content focus
Some newspapers migrating to the web are finding that they need to find and focus on their strengths in publishing in that medium. That has meant stripping the online content down to the unique selling points of their publication that drive audience interest. 
Some success has been found in superniche and hyperlocal journalism. 
The Chi-Town Daily News delivers neighbourhood level news reports, Spot.US is exploring ways for the public to fund the reporting they are interested in and EveryBlock delivers street level reporting that's written to be relevant to residents on neighbouring city blocks.

Superniche sites like Strobist (artful small flash photography) and Gamespot (hardcore console and PC gaming) deliver expert reporting and advice on very narrow subject areas.
Meeting these challenges means flipping the traditional systems of journalism filtering in favour of preparing an information mix for the web that focuses on target audiences likely to draw numbers and reader profiles that prove attractive to advertisers. 
On our way to this new way of defining the business of publishing, there have been lost opportunities, more on that next week.

Related links...
BitDepth 682 -
The Dock and the Boat
BitDepth 683 -
Lost opportunities, future potential

Presentation slides and audio of the presentation given by Georgia Popplewell, Mark Lyndersay and Kellie Magnus to Caribbean media practitioners in Grenada can be
downloaded here...
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