Newspapers need to get social or die

globeMy heart goes out to my former colleagues at the Globe and Mail today. The newspaper announced that it needs to cut its workforce by about 10 per cent, cutting 80 to 90 jobs from its 800-person staff. Roughly half will come from the editorial department.

The immediate impact on employees may not be quite as drastic as it sounds. The unionized Globe must offer buyout packages before it lays anyone off and there will be a plenty of journalists who will jump at the chance to retire early with incentive.

But the layoffs underscore the precarious state of the newspaper industry. The Globe says advertising revenue will drop by $40-million this year. The immediate challenge is the state of the economy. But the more important questions are A) whether this revenue will come back when the economy rebounds and B) whether millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995) will ever even want to read a newspaper.

Until recently, I believed that newspapers (the dead-tree variety) would live on for a long time. I’m no longer so sure. We’ll always need journalists, but we may not always want newspapers. An article in the latest issue of The Atlantic argues that newsprint could become extinct much more quickly than expected, asking: “what if The New York Times goes out of business — like, this May?” The article quotes a December report from Fitch Ratings Service, which monitors the health of media companies:

“Fitch believes more newspapers and news­paper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010.”

The newspaper industry today is about where the music industry was 10 years ago. And we know how that worked out. Here’s the problem: Newspapers think they’ve adapted because they’ve put their content online and introduced some basic social media tools. But putting the same old content on a new medium isn’t enough. Plenty more needs to be done. 2009 is the year newspapers need to get social or die.

One Comment

  1. Well, we all want change, isn’t that what this last election was all about. As for social media being the answer, I’m not so sure. It could be part of it. I have yet to see a social media solution monetized to the point of displacing the traditional media’s income (dead tree, I think you put it).

    I think a better way to look at this is, what is the new business model needed so that an industry can evolve to the future state. Currently the product source and distribution channels have been attacked by a competitor (the internet, 24 hour cable news, mobile devices with 24/7 alerts, etc.) and yet the traditional media companies seem to be oblivious to the fact that their current business model (you know, how they make their profit!) have been so eroded that they must do something different to keep the cash coming in!

    It’s OK if news papers become extinct. We have plenty of examples in our history of industries ravaged by technology or legislative changes and yet we are all still here today. Just think of the hardship the following had to go through:

    – pampleteers
    – blacksmiths
    – shoe makers
    – pick any cottage industry
    – candlestick makers
    – horse ranching industry
    – postal service (well soon anyways)

    On the bright side, those 80 or 90 folks you mentioned can look forward to a nice job building roads, bridges, or if they are real lucky a wind turbine for Obama. 8)

    Good Hunting,

    Reply

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