Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Critical Thinking: J-School Students and Industry Vets Tackle the Tough Questions

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Critical Thinking: J-School Students and Industry Vets Tackle the Tough Questions

Article excerpt

Q: newspaper is in the midst of a budget crisis. Paid print subscriptions have plummeted, while free digital subscriptions are up. The reporters are overworked and underpaid, and the staff is minimal. There is no money to hire more but the paper desperately needs to get out news online and in print. What are some ways the newspaper can generate revenue in the short and long term to make this happen?


Abram "Abe" Brown 21, senior at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in New York

Brown is a magazine journalism student who has interned with The Post-Standard in Syracuse and The Buffalo (N.Y.) News. He was also a copy editor and assistant editor for the university newspaper, The Daily Orange. He will graduate in May. Follow him on Twitter @abebrown716 or e-mail him at

A: You could raise newsstand prices. You could ask your employees for givebacks. You could even sack a few more. But these short-term moves are just more belt tightening, and it's hard to tighten an already size-zero waist.

If news must go out and revenue must come in, skip the short-term solutions. Think long term. Think about one thing: Stop giving your content away free. That old newspaper business model stopped working years ago. Use a paywall. Make it reasonable for your readers--as reasonable as that print subscription. Soon the paywall will bring increased revenue. Plus, we've seen that the paywall is possible. Smaller papers have experimented, and The New York Times promises to lead this must-follow trend.

An obvious problem exists with adopting a paywall. Readers are used to getting online content free. Some readers will balk at a paywall and refuse to pay. Newspapers with strong market penetration will find that a paywall drives away some readers. But those readers will have few other quality news sources to turn to.

Newspapers with weak market penetration or ones that face intense competition may need to target a specific audience. Each niche will differ by publication: political leanings, ethnicity, class. With a target audience set, let the editorial content shine.

As editors, make your paper essential and talked-about. If non-subscribers feel left out of the conversation, then even the most recalcitrant ones will feel compelled to subscribe. Personnel decisions become crucial here too. Hire only staffers who can help your paper transform.

Consider it time to break with the old and adopt the new. …

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