Some people don’t get it yet.
Journalism is going to survive this age of transition. Newspapers, however, are not going to survive as is, and there’s no magically going back to a Golden Age of profit margins after this economic thing vaguely resembling a recession (or not).
John Morton spends a fair amount of time gnashing teeth over the situation in his column, “Enough is enough,” over at American Journalism Review (http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=4509).
His theme is that the wave of layoffs picking up momentum in the industry is lamentable and shortsighted. I don’t advocate wholesale slashing of newsroom staff, either. And, in fairness, he also concludes that newspapers will not enjoy the same profit margins in the future.
The problem, though, is how he supports his argument. It seems so head-in-sand-ish.
Morton argues that newpapers do things better than the Web and that time spent on the Web could be spent reading a newspaper. He even cites TV listings as an example. “Web television listings are a particular pain, requiring multiple manipulations to learn what a glance at a printed page provides.”
SNORT. Newspapers haven’t done printed TV listings well since the advent of cable. Can you say, “Hundreds of channels”? And have you seen TV Guide? Can you say, “People magazine wanna-be”?
Truth is, print products don’t do things better. Neither does the Web. They do them differently and have their own strengths, and that’s OK. As a business, a media company must decide what audience(s) it wants to reach and which distribution channel (print, online, broadcast, TBD) meets the audience’s needs.
Morton goes on: “Can newspapers really expect to recapture what they have lost with less circulation, a thinner newspaper offering fewer services to readers, with editorial products undermined in breadth and depth by layoffs and space constrictions? I think not.”
He’s right. We can’t do more with less. We can, however, do better at meeting audience/consumer needs, and maybe we can do that with less. We can stop acting like journalism demigods and start listening to what our communities want from us. Then give the community the best damn product we can to meet their needs.
If that means we stop doing some things, so be it. (Morton bemoans the loss of “customary features” in newspapers. Ask readers; if they don’t care, should we?)
Tip of the hat to Community Editor Jamie Kelly who forwarded Morton’s piece. If you come across something germane to this conversation, give me a heads-up at Twitter (http://twitter.com). You can find me there as annetteschulte.