Mainstream Media (MSM) Will Experience at Least Five Changes in 2009


  1. Dozens of secondary newspapers and magazines will shift to an online-only model in 2009. Already this year, FinancialWeek announced that it is shifting over this month. The benefits of the online-only model include substantial savings now that they no longer have to print, mail and deliver content (to newsstands and homes). The downside: they lose three revenue streams – display and classified advertising from the print edition as well as subscription fees – and now rely on online advertising to fund their operations. Online subscription fees have worked for only select media – even the New York Times couldn’t make a fee-based plan work. Expect some surprises as some larger market papers find themselves in real trouble (for example, the Times’ cutting its dividend). Addendum: The day after we posted this, the Times reported that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a good, large-market paper in a two-paper town, may go online-only or shut down within 60 days.
  2. Traditional media that continue to publish print editions will update their formats to include more maps, graphics, lists, ranking and stats, along with shorter articles. These print editions will also be shorter, with some papers – including the Denver Post and Boston Globe – having shed stand-alone business sections. The same holds from magazines. As Fortune tech reporter, David Kirkpatrick wrote on Twitter: “an indicator of the sorry state of the economy – and the magazine industry: the new issue of Time – a mere pamphlet.” (Don’t forget: Time and Fortune are published by the same company! And Fortune’s current issue is pretty thin, too.)
  3. These smaller floating business sections are not likely to achieve their publishers’ goal because the sections are more difficult for readers to find and these sections provide less coverage of business at a time when the economy is in turmoil and undergoing seismic shocks — a time when people need to more closely understand what’s happening and how it impacts them. These smaller sections will also be less interesting to advertisers, too, because readers may easily skip over them.
  4. The value of content is changing. Traditionally, the value of the entire newspaper or magazine was worth a lot. Now, individual articles (available often by RSS feeds, Tweets, Google or other search engines) are worth more than the newspaper as a whole because technology has enabled us to consume only that which really interests us. It’s more efficient this way, but paging through a newspaper ensures you get a broader sense of what’s going on. It’s a more niche world.
  5. Stringers and citizen journalists will become more important. Because of staff cutbacks and bureau closings, MSM may not be able to find and send reporters or crews to cover breaking, important news outside their immediate region. The tragic shootings in Mumbai is an example where MSM, including some of the biggest names in journalism, relied on first-hand local reports. For example, CNN uses footage from iReport, and has been posting citizen video footage since Hurricane Katrina. Expect this trend to continue.
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