Nearly 20 years after the Internet became a thorn in the side of newspapers, the old-school print industry continues to take steps to soften the blow that the Web has had on its business model.
The problem is that newspapers, as part of their effort to become one with the digital side of news, keep making the same mistake. They keep chopping the journalism side of the business, the side that creates the original content that keeps visitors – and the eyeballs for their ads – clicking on their sites.
This time around, it’s the mighty New York Times that’s slashing newsroom jobs so it can “shift more resources to digital news products,” according to a recent post in USA Today.
Let’s not be mistaken, though. By digital news products, they’re talking about products that help drive revenues and increase profits – things like mobile apps and “native ads” that are paid by large advertisers. They’re not talking about expanding the types of journalism that are reaching a broader audience of readers.
Look, I’m not naive enough to think that the newspapers make money by simply producing quality journalism. It’s been long understood that advertising is what brings the money into a news outlet. But in an age where content is king, the NYT and other newspaper companies shouldn’t necessarily be slashing the newsroom for the sake of making their bottom lines look better.
At the New York Times, it’s 100 newsroom jobs – or about 7.5 percent of the newsroom. It’s a small percentage, I realize. But the quantity of the cut isn’t what matters here. In the USA Today post, it’s noted that The Times is also shuttering a recently launched mobile app of opinion content because it wasn’t getting enough subscribers.
Is subscriptions really the problem? Or was it advertising?
I’ll applaud the NYT for giving a mobile app of opinion content its own platform but that was more of an experiment in what might work – and less of an way that reflects the way people find content today. Today’s news readers click on links in social media and news feeds for their information. Sure, there are those faithfuls who open the NYT or the WSJ or the Washington Post every morning – but a new generation of readers is clicking on a link in Twitter.
Does a reader really need a mobile app just to read opinion content? Or does the reader want to read a compelling, well-thought opinion piece that has some viral pickup across social media, that provokes social chatter and sparks some national debate over hot topics?
At the end of the day, newspapers – or news companies, as they should be called – should stay focused on creating quality content that educates and informs the readers about world, national and local issues, They should strive for timeliness and relevance. They should extend their reach across a number of different platforms to grow an audience that puts value in their words.
That’s what not only brings the audience, but what also keeps the audience. If the audience is there, the advertisers will follow. That’s been the drill since Day One – and, despite the struggles that newspapers face in a digital age, it should continue to be the drill.
The Internet didn’t arrive yesterday. News companies realized long ago that they have to adapt for a new business model. And yet, they continue to make decisions that are bad for the long-term.
Nearly 20 years later, there’s no excuse for cutting journalism for the sake of an investment in digital. In the short-term, it may help the bottom line. But in the long-term, it just hurts the brand.