Outing Column On ‘Life Without The Print Edition’ Causes Stir

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By: E&P Staff

Readers are still responding, pro and con, to Steve Outing’s latest column on life without the print edition. We published half a dozen Letters yesterday, and many more today. Here is original column:

Life Without the Print Edition

And away we go.

I find it tragic that the crashing and burning of Steve Outing’s fabulous “new media” empire has left him unable even to afford a subscription to his local paper. We discussed poor Steve’s situation here at the Niagara Falls Reporter this afternoon and decided to take up a collection.

If you could please send along his home address, we will restore his newspaper service, at least until he can get back on his feet.

Mike Hudson
Editor, Niagara Falls Reporter

As the editor of 28,500 circ. (and declining) daily in suburban Pittsburgh, I?m upset and disappointed with Mr. Outing.

He knows our industry still lives off of paying hard-copy customers and advertisers.

Ho-hum, he says, not a problem, just because “online revenues can’t yet match print’s.” Yet? Oh, wise advisor of newspapers and new media expert, when do you expect online revenue to remotely match print revenue? Next month? Next year? Ever?

If my newspaper dies, what happens? Will the Pittsburgh metros and surrounding small dailies suddenly ramp up coverage? Hell, no. They’ll sell the subscriptions they can and continue to ignore the region. Maybe ? a big maybe — a weekly paper will (inadequately) replace us.

No, local news will come from our local Web sites. Based on the current ones, they?ll be run by people with no training in journalism with a limited understanding of what is news, how to write it and how to present it. Will they be able financially to hire staff? Rely on citizen-journalists (good luck finding them here)?

TV/radio? They only drive the 25 miles from downtown Pittsburgh now for fires, floods, fornication and sad stories about kitties and puppies.

Maybe local governments will pick up the ball, but those will be community newsletters full of all of the hap-hap-happy news pablum government deems should be known.

Nope, if we go away, there will be virtually no local news for the region. And then all of those former subscribers ? like Mr. Outing — will sit around in ignorant despair and boo-hoo about the good old days when there was a local paper.

In the 1990s, our industry started its slow-drip suicide on the web. Thanks, Mr. Outing, for yet-another refill of the I.V. bag.

Jeff Domenick
Valley News Dispatch
Tarentum, Pa.

I enjoyed your column on life without the print edition. I agree this world is headed there fast, and we probably should be a little concerned.

You see, once the print edition is left to fend for itself on a street corner or single copy newsstand the circulation department will be, the “Mail Room”, editorial staff will be reduced to cover just local mom and pop stories, and advertising will become a difficult place to hold a job. But is that it? No, once we get to the point where a building is no longer needed the printing will be outsourced, all news stories will be outsourced and most everything will be handled by the corporations flagship.

Just because we are naive to the “.Com” era, and we have an online product does not guarantee success in the future. Newspaper corporation will close their smaller newspapers and run those newspaper’s online editions from corporate, the same is true for the editorial and advertising. So what do you have left? A few print editions will survive, but there will be more than enough online news sites to view, which leads us to our next hurdle. Those of us that complain that the newspaper across town keeps taking our readers you haven’t seen anything yet. All online news agencies will be our competition and the one who spends the most money marketing their site will win.

The end result. More jobs will be lost in this industry than in the nation following 9-11.

I agree with you Steve, I can get the same information online anytime I want so why have the print edition delivered? You got me.

The funny thing about history is that it repeats itself, and years after the print edition is gone someone will come up with a brilliant idea for a printed news source and market it just right and we start again. For those of us that are still around when that happens we’ll be saying “newspaper are nothing new, we had them back in the nineties, big ones too.”

Questio:. How do we keep the demise of newspapers from happening?

I was in an apartment complex the other day and I saw three newspaper still sitting on the porches of three apartment homes. I asked myself why? Was it because the papers were delivered late and the customer had already left for work? Or is it because there was nothing interesting in the paper to make the reader stop and pick it up?

Answer. Create an interest beyond the news.

Brian Philippsen
Mesa, Ariz.

I have just read Steve Outing?s column ?Life without the print edition? and he has become the new poster boy for why newspapers should not post all their original content online for free. Local editorial content is ?king? and the reader will use whatever medium has the content they want. Even teenagers will read a newspaper if there is something of interest in it for them.

Bruce Wood
Champion Newspapers
Chino/Chino Hills, Calif.

If this is the kind of articles and support you and your writers will give to our newspaper industry, I will be dropping my E&P subscription and blocking all of your emails. Mr. Outing, you need to change industry, try radio, it is free. Oh, wait, they get all their local news and info from our front page of the print edition, everyday.

How disappointing to read your ?honest? views on the newspaper business. Yes, why buy the cow when you can have the steak for free. Why doesn?t my satellite service allow me to unbundle all the crap they make me take? Why can?t I get the seven or eight channels that I really want and only pay for them, kind of like your thoughts on the comics? You know the answer just like we all do.

You totally failed to address all the preprints and peripheral information that comes in the newspaper on a weekly basis. Study after study (see NAA and E&P) indicates that an extremely high percentage of people that receive the newspaper do so for the preprints and advertisements. I see it in my own home with my wife and daughters. Sunday morning, I take my pile, she takes hers and we drink our coffee in peace.

Note directly to E&P, shame on you; for not thinking about what Steve spews on our industry.

Ken Clements
Advertising Director
Post Register
Idaho Falls, ID

If my hometown paper landed on my driveway every morning, I’d cancel it, too. If it was actually hitting your doorstep (a less satisfying image for the purposes of a column), you owe an apology to their circ director. Driveway delivery is a service error.

But that’s re-arranging deck chairs.

Even a guy who specializes in being from 40 miles away and owning a briefcase has an obligation to be blunt with his clients about the underlying assumptions.

To grossly oversimplify: the N2 Crew predict that, like the steel and automotive industries, newspapers will progressively abandon their lowest-profit products to their disruptive low-cost/low-quality competitors. To hear N2ers tell it, there is no escape and an honest newspaper consultant would tell owners to sell now…or finance those low-cost/low-quality competitors so that you wind up owning some part of the market even if you have to accept lower margins. As N2 gurus are fond of saying, only populations evolve. Individuals (that would be you and me) die off.

But the thing with Harvard Business School professors like N2’s Clay Christensen (Author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and other very good books) is to remember whom they work for. Harvard no longer produces captains of industry. It produces hedge fund managers. Although clever and well-trained, MBAs see the world through lenses that are, by definition, equisitely narrow in their field of view, which is Wall Street. They are the people who created and sold the Collateralized Debt Obligation and other masterpieces of America’s finance-dominated economy.

They forget that the rest of America likes to go to work and produce something meaningful.

It’s exciting to peddle sizzle, but somewhere, someone has to be making steaks or the whole thing collapses, as Wall Street periodically learns. This is why I’m fascinated that you think charging for content is a shoot-yourself-in-the-foot strategy. If the Boulder Camera stopped giving away its local content online for a week, what would all the whiz-bang aggregators you mention be sending to you? Day-old material scraped from the AP and a few squibs from the Denver papers and TV stations. The thing with plagiarism is you have to wait for a creative enterprise to make something worth stealing.

Again, I rearrange deck chairs, since the captains of the news industry seem determined to donate our lifeblood to our vanquishers.

But it would be refreshing to hear an E&P columnist whack owners under the chin for short-changing their marketing and training budgets lo these many years and to stand up for the most basic value proposition of all: fee for service.

Are the trainers of America’s hedge fund managers really the people to whom we should be turning for answers?

Probably not. While their insights are useful, we need to be listening to creative types, be they writers, designers or engineers. I think all of us foot-shooters understand that the world is changing. But “Give all your content for awhile until somebody has a cool idea” isn’t a strategy, it’s a capitulation.

Dean Miller
2008 Nieman Fellow
Harvard UNiversity

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