Magazine article Editor & Publisher

When Two Become One: The Do's and Don'ts of Managing a Declining Print Product

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

When Two Become One: The Do's and Don'ts of Managing a Declining Print Product

Article excerpt

"Reality Check," a paper published in July by University of Texas journalism professors Hsiang Iris Chyi and Ori Tenenboim (, argues that newspapers lost their way over the past decade by attempting to compete in the realm of free online content. As a result, they argue, their original, "core" product--print--suffered, while newspaper brands were degraded by forays into clickbait stories and poorly designed online platforms monetized by annoying popup ads.

Their conclusion--that newspapers should effectively dump their online presence and focus on improving the dead tree edition--is laughably out of touch with the reality of reader habits, advertiser demands, and common sense about the most effective ways to report and present the news and engage with a community about its information needs.

But the introduction to their paper is accurate for many newspaper companies as a standalone statement: "Twenty years into U.S. newspapers' online ventures, many are stuck between a shrinking market for their print product and an unsuccessful experiment with digital offerings."

And it raises questions: How can newspapers better manage and respect the role of the print edition without handcuffing digital growth? What can digital operations learn from the traditional success of print, and vice versa?

Strengths of the print edition include:

* A declining but core, loyal, and importantly--paying--base of readers.

* Advertising rates that, although declining at an even faster rate than subscriber revenue, still command much higher CPMs than digital.

The ability, via organization of each day's edition, to guide readers through what the newsroom has found to be the most important news of the day in an organized, digestible, way, with an end point. The front page signals the importance editors have assigned to the top stories of the day.

Digital, on the other hand, serves:

* The vast majority of the community that feels better served by digital platforms that provide immediacy, depth, unlimited connections between different pieces of information, and an interactive consumption and conversation about the news.

* Advertisers who want to target an audience most likely to be interested in their product, when they're most likely to be interested, in formats that are more likely to engage them.

In an attempt to juggle both, newspaper companies have funded digital resources (or, more accurately, protection of profit margin) by cutting the infrastructure associated with print. …

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