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Log On to Life!

December 28, 2006 By:
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The news seems only to worsen when you consider the future of newspapers. That was part of the premise behind Michael Hirschorn's "Get Me Rewrite!" which appeared in the December Atlantic Monthly.

Hirschorn noted that some of the giants of the media industry -- read here, The New York Times -- are finding themselves vulnerable. The Times may not have called it quits yet, but they are in extremis, according to the author. The paper plans to cut 1,000 jobs over the next two years, and its profits keep plummeting.

"A study released last spring by the Audit Bureau of Circulations showed that daily newspaper circulation had dropped about 2.5 percent over the previous year, while Sunday circ dropped 3.1 percent."

But that was only part of Hirschorn's premise, which more hopeful than those sobering stats suggest. Not for nothing was his article described as a "modest proposal for reinventing newspapers for the digital age."

Before he divulged his strategy, Hirschorn piled on all the bad news about how the Web has been undermining print. So what should newspaper do? he asked. "They should stop printing" was his first suggestion.

"It may happen eventually, or perhaps newsprint will find a financially sustainable market among the elite and elderly (or perhaps it will have a nostalgic vogue not unlike that of, say, heirloom tomatoes), but that's not what I'm getting at. The current Web-publishing model that newspapers are using isn't likely to become financially viable anytime soon. With few exceptions, the media businesses thriving on the Web either are low-cost blog-like efforts or follow a many-to-many model, in which communities create, share and consume content. Publishing an article on the Web gets you one click: getting your users to write the article for you gets you a thousand clicks, and costs less to boot. In other words, turning your users into contributors increases their engagement with your site -- each click is, after all, also an 'ad impression' -- while simultaneously generating more content that you in turn can sell to advertisers.

"That, I venture, is how you start rethinking the newspaper business. Not only do you allow your reporters to blog; you make them the hubs of their own social networks, the maestros of their wikis, the masters of their own many-to-many realms."

He used the example of a music critic, say, who "creates his own community around the music he likes. ... With editorial oversight only for libel and factual accuracy," the critic is allowed to do whatever he wants to on his site (while the mother ship pours its resources into marketing him). Other people are allowed to write reviews under the publication's and the critic's "brand." In this way, papers stand a chance of transforming one review into the "organic back-and-forth of social media."

This would also allow a paper like the Times "to start achieving the scale, and the cost efficiency, that make online publishing profitable."

 

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