Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Whistling Past The Gutenberg Graveyard

Before I became Paw Paw Bill, I always included my middle initial in my writing byline, William C. Cotter. I grew up reading the legendary foreign affairs correspondent Joseph C. Harsch in The Christian Science Monitor, even before I discovered Ralph McGill and Furman Bisher in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Monitor arrived in my childhood home delivered daily by U.S. Mail. The subscriber, my mother, was a Christian Science Practitioner. I left the church the same year I quit my high school football team after four seasons. This was the year I read Huck Finn and learned my favorite jester was serious as shackles. My football coach telephoned again and again, but I could not talk to him, did not know how to explain. The only time I ever went back inside a Christian Science Church was the October 1962 Sunday of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Don’t bother to tell me the old one about how there are no atheists in foxholes.

The Christian Science Monitor will cease publication as a daily newspaper next month. It will concentrate on providing news via the internet and will begin a weekly newsmagazine under its 100-year-old name. The Monitor says it may be “the first newspaper with a national audience to shift from a daily print format to an online publication that is updated continuously each day.” But not likely the last. Look for the long line. Journalistic respect for The Monitor has been reflected in seven Pulitzer Prizes, elections of three of its editors as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. However, most of today’s newspapers are sinking from their own weight in dinosaur technology, ink, newsprint, and gasoline fueled distribution, while advertising adapts, evolves, and migrates to other media. The Monitor will lose $18.9 million this year. "A modest reduction" in the editorial staff is to be expected, but all hands will contribute to the new formats. The Monitor weekly print edition will be priced at $3.50 per copy, a year's subscription $89. The last full-price subscription to the daily newspaper has been $219. The new daily electronic edition will be offered by subscription also, price yet to be announced.

When New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., was asked recently whether The Times would still be printing in 10 years, he answered, “We can't care." He said that he expects print to be around for a long time but "we must be where people want us for our information." The Times is already largely available on the internet. Here’s the real unanswered question: Will internet users pay money to read the news and other information? You can be sure that is the discussion going on at newspapers all over the country. Not will the news go on-line or when, but how to make any money. I suggest the model already used by the music business, which licenses its products to users, radio stations, bars and restaurants, barber and beauty shops, even the internet, then keeps aggressive accounts. For decades, ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) have successfully insured that all songwriters, composers and publishers have the right to be paid for the use of their work. In the same manner, news publishers could license their products to Google, Yahoo, AOL and others, collecting some modest sum, pennies per browse, that would add up to support for the news business.

Copyright 2009 by William C. Cotter


Tina said...

I visit the CSM website to read book reviews. For a couple of weeks I was getting the NYT (or a version of it) on my Kindle e-reader, but canceled because I was mostly interested in the Sunday book reviews and the others were "piling up," albeit in a digital sort of way in my Kindle.
Now I think I will just download the Sunday NYT without a subscription. Having an e-reader is really neat but a bad temptation since you can do one-click buying and have the book "in your hands" within seconds. My Kindle will hold 200 books but I understand the new Kindle 2 will hold 1200.

Professor Staff said...

I think the CSM has a good strategy.

I don't have time to read a newspaper every day -- first problem is being where the newspaper is. But I can find time to go to a few times and stay up to date.

However, I like weeklies (Economist) and monthlies (Atlantic) that provide more indepth examination of issues, and they are not dated if you read them 3 days later. A weekly approach might bring back some of the quality in-depth journalism that all too often isn't a strong suit of newspapers anymore.

I think if a US-focused news magazine could adopt something like the Economists' format (they have a formulaic balance of articles depths that works), it would do well. I might even consider reading it, and they'd give Time, Newsweek, US News a run for their money (I really don't care much for any of those 3).

- Rob B (your neighbor in DC)

Tina said...

I like the Economist too, but it is sooooooo expensive.


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