There is no transition for newspapers, just constant, never ending change

Long, thoughtful, thought-provoking piece from Zac Echola. It’s a must read for any journalist with any doubt that the game has changed radically and forever. This isn’t a “transition period” for newspapers. It’s a whole new game.

See, I’m kind of tired of people talking about how newspapers are going through a “transition.” As in, “we just need to get through this transition.”

Transitions have beginnings, middles and ends. Transitions eventually stop and you get a chance to take a breath and say, “cool, we survived.”

This is no transition, because the changing will never stop. This is no transition because this is a radically different world from the one of mass-produced packages dumped on people’s door steps. The fact that there is still news on paper may be a mere echo of history.

It’s hard to believe news on paper will ever die. It’s also hard to believe news on paper will survive.

We just don’t know, but even if print survives, it will only survive because people in our news organizations become adapt at adjusting to constant change.

The print business, if it survives, will never stop feeling the increased pressure of competition, changing lifestyles and evolving audience expectations.

Print revenue is not likely to ever grow again. Digital revenue, at least, has no known ceiling.

If we expect print to survive, then we need to keep those products going while adjusting to change. But we also need to make digital a higher priority, because that’s the once chance we have to grow revenue and save, if not create, jobs.
Part of that adjustment is recognizing that digital media is fundamentally and radically different from packaged goods media. It calls for a different kind of journalism, and a different mindset from journalists.

Here’s the hard part: For as long as it survives, your print product is largely fine. It could maybe use a nip and tuck, but the people who continue to get the print product like what you do and don’t want you to change.

Online, that’s a whole different story. You’ve got to be different, and radically so. You need to write differently, file your copy at different times, make sure to provide appropriate links, include some video or extra photos, make a map or two, respond to reader comments (correcting, amplifying or scolding), participate in blogs related to your coverage area, and you simply must be smarter and better informed about what you cover if you want to retain the respect of your readers.

The hard part is, you must do all this and keep your more traditional print product going in an era of diminishing resources.

I don’t have an easy answer, except “just do it.” It’s really up to each individual to figure out how to reconfigure his or her job to meet the demands of both the print and the online audience. The responsibility for change doesn’t rest solely in the publisher’s office. It’s also the responsibility of every reporter, editor and clerk.

I think it can be done. I see people doing it everyday. My concern is not enough journalists are even trying.

The main point is — stop calling it a transition. If there was a transition, the inflection point passed four or five years ago. We can’t keep calling it a transition hoping someday soon all this turbulance will end. It won’t. The fundamentals of the media business are altered radically and forever.

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  • Walter Wellman

    Writing “just do it” doesn’t cut it. By “just doing it” with diminishing resources, the newspaper is insulting its readers. Readers notice when their newspaper isn’t doing the job it once was. Newspapers must cut their profit margins to keep staffing levels up AND “just do it” on the Web.

  • Renee Robbins

    “There is no transition for newspapers, just constent (sic), never ending change”

    The rules of spelling haven’t changed, nor has the need for accuracy. And while the responsibility to be accurate rests with individual writers, every writer deserves an editor watching his or her back and helping them improve. For every reporter-turned-blogger who is thrilled the to self-publish on the Web and publish only the “corrections” they agree with, there is another who is bemoaning the fact that there is no time for collaboration or proofreading second-thinking before an article released to the world. It’s not a big deal is no one reads a correction to a mispelled headline. But what about a retraction of mis-stated fact?

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    By offering a correction of my headline, you pretty much confirm how blogs are different. Thanks.

    You’re arguing against the sun setting or water running down hill.

    The rules of the game have changed. You may not like the new rules, but that doesn’t mean you get to ban the designated hitter. It’s not your choice.

    You better figure out the answers to the questions rather than arguing against reality.

  • Walter Wellman

    Actually, it is Ms. Robbins choice. What you are missing, Mr. Owens, is we now live in a consumer-driven information world (thank God). Your stance is no different than the old-time editors you criticize.

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    I don’t see how I’m saying anything that this isn’t a “consumer-driven information world.” That’s like one of the primary themes of my blog, and what this particular post is all about. Are you reading? Or just a troll?

  • Walter Wellman

    Yes, I have been reading. And, you wrote:

    “The rules of the game have changed. You may not like the new rules, but that doesn’t mean you get to ban the designated hitter. It’s not your choice.”

    That belies your position. She does get to “ban the designated hitter” because she is the consumer of your content. Her choice, obviously, is to stop reading your blog.

    A troll, eh? Only in the sense of trolling for consistency.

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    I can’t even follow what you’re talking about. That quote doesn’t in any way contradict anything I’ve ever said about consumers being in control of their media. I mean, what the fuck are you talking about? Consistency? Do you even have a passing acquaintance with the concept? Before you can be consistent you need to be logical.

  • Walter Wellman

    You are arguing that at least one consumer has no say in how media develop; of course, she does. You just don’t think she should. Perhaps your own, more logical words can make the point. You write:

    “You’re arguing against the sun setting or water running down hill.

    “The rules of the game have changed. You may not like the new rules, but that doesn’t mean you get to ban the designated hitter. It’s not your choice.

    “You better figure out the answers to the questions rather than arguing against reality.”

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    Except, she’s not arguing as a consumer, but as a producer. My statements are clearly aimed at producers. I don’t write for consumers. The primary audience of this blog is producers.

  • Walter Wellman

    Now, I am the one who is confused. Can’t a producer be a consumer? Indeed, aren’t all readers/viewers/listeners of any media consumers, regardless of the subject in which they are interested?

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    Ah, the trolls are out in force.

  • Bret McCormick

    Howard I get you are talking about the quandary our newsrooms find themselves in. For over a hundred years they have collaborated, written, edited, directed, and ultimately controlled the timing and method of delivery of news to the public.

    It’s an understatement to say, “Web is changing all that we know for traditional media institutions”. However, while one can see a few “web based transformations” taking place, newsrooms continue to make the print model the priority. Online editions are being produced by the smallest fraction of the overall resources available to the news organizations.

    I suspect newsrooms have much pain in their near future. And this will be a very positive thing. Senior newsroom managers will eventually come to understand news producer/editor jobs don’t have to be eliminated. Far from it, we’ll eventually be adding more. One day they will realize their jobs will beget more jobs. I firmly believe the public will want/need a “trusted” news stream.

    As to the “Just do it” concept…….We’ve first got to get past the mentality of “We’ve always done it this way” and “If we don’t produce it it’s not news”.

  • Walter Wellman

    Good newspapers like good television like good radio like good blogs, I assume, don’t do it the way they always did; they do it the way their readership wants it.

  • http://www.pressmart.net john smith

    The news paper transition is because of reader’s interest as many people looking for online editions. Newspapers will definitely survive as they following new trends in circulations. Companies like http://www.pressmart.net helping news publishers in distribute over the new technology mediums like web, blogs, social media, RSS, mobile, pod cast, mobile, etc… This transition will keep the newspapers on top positions.