Friday, January 27, 2012

Newspaper Publishing Rebounding (Somewhat)

The print news industry has been taking a beating these past few years but revenues are finally starting to turn a corner (for the better) and the outlook is not looking as gloomy as it has.

There are a number of factors which led to the decline of the print news industry, but every one of them was made more devastating by the industry's own reluctance to change, adapt or take advantage of new media in ways which would benefit it.

I know this because I saw it first hand. I was a print news reporter for more than decade. I worked at a variety of newspapers, both large and small; in urban and rural markets; dailies and weeklies.

I heard editors decry the Internet as a tool only "geeks and nerds" will use. I listened as they explained, at length, how social media was a "passing fad" that was basically just a tool for gossip and games. I watched as IT professionals employed by the newspaper industry worked feverishly to cut off all access to social media sites, outside email services, forums and any and all Internet marketing tools, and then listened as they bragged about how "tightly secure" their infrastructure was.

In the meantime other companies worked feverishly to fill the void left on the Internet by newspapers as they locked down their content, offered advertisers no options for making good use of their web sites, and avoided social media like the plague.

I remember begging our IT guys to please load a 30 second video clip of a man starting a bi-plane to our web site as a media accompaniment for a story I had written, only to be told it was too complicated and that "nobody would watch it any way."

Fortunately for me, because I did pursue social media as a tool for myself and my newsroom I survived the drastic wave of lay offs and cutbacks that decimated newsrooms around the country. Yet even as I found success promoting my stories with tools like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, I encountered the same level of contempt from editors and publishers who were so used to being the only news source for their community they failed to see the many ways their position was being usurped.

And reporters were no better. In journalism school they learned that their trade was a skill which should not be sullied with "tricks" of the Internet, and that as long as they wrote traditional news stories they would always have a job. Even as they were laid off, cut back or just plain "let go" they continued to eschew all forms of digital media; many didn't even have a LinkedIn account much less a Twitter or Facebook account. Finding a new job became all the more difficult because they didn't have anything except a pile of newspaper clippings to promote themselves with.

So, if the print news industry is rebounding, finally, it has much more to do with the fact that readers simply want to keep them around. Just as enough music listeners continue to enjoy vinyl records, making it a billion dollar industry, so are newspaper readers helping that industry maintain a niche.

How long they can hold on to even that niche, however, will depend a great deal on whether or not they have finally learned their lesson and are prepared to take full advantage of the many and varied ways to tell their stories in the Digital Age.

No comments: