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Vocus journalists panel: Not all media telling the same story

Vocus users conference journalists panel

Vocus users conference journalists panel

At the 2009 Vocus Users Conference, a panel of three journalists and one moderator were called upon to answer some of the pressing questions about today’s changing media landscape. The answers to the general question of “what is going on here?” were not homogeneous. Aside from the common factor of losing money and doing more with less, each panelist shared a unique piece of insight from his media position.

Revenue is a hot topic right now among all media types, but Richard Dunham, Washington, D.C. bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle and Hearst Newspapers, stated that they are seeing an increase because the paper’s subscription price has gone up. But only considering revenue leads to tunnel vision.  “Our readership is down,” said Dunham. “Newspaper readers are like smokers. The ones we have now are addicted. The only problem is what we’re going to do when they die off.”

Dunham also described the training that editorial staff members have gone through to learn new skills. They have all been trained now on Web videos, photos and some HTML. Their skills make them more flexible and highly-capable. “It’s exciting,” said Dunham. Yet journalists remain cautious. “The only question is, ‘are we going to have a job tomorrow?’” Most one-newspaper towns, he warns, shouldn’t get too comfortable. Just because they are the only newspaper today does not mean there won’t be zero newspapers in that town next week.

BusinessWeek is seeing the opposite problem; the magazine’s circulation numbers are up, but their advertising numbers are down. “Magazines as a whole don’t have the same problem as newspapers,” said Steve Wildstrom, who created BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column. “We just need to find a new business model.” That’s easier said than done, and editors are still in the process of experimenting with content, especially at this newsweekly. The same story running in the print edition will have a different headline if it runs on the Web site, as online news must be tailored for search engine optimization. BusinessWeek’s Web site includes more than articles. The choice of additional online content will be different from the print edition’s focus as well, Wildstrom says, pointing out that online, there are many more international readers. Pageviews may help BusinessWeek’s ad numbers, but the drive to stay on top keeps magazines from standing out online. “We waste a lot of time chasing the same stories as everyone else,” said Wildstrom, “simply because it may be a popular search item at the time.”

The International Data Group (IDG) News Service held up a successful business model record  until the recession. “It’s been a bloodbath,” said Grant Gross, correspondent for IDG. “We were hyper-focused on whatever our niche is, but we’re not doing as much product news.” Gross, whose content the technology industry relies on, admits that they have started to run a lot of videos from PR folks on their Web site.

All three panelists are facing massive change as readers use the media in new ways. Journalists know they must fit readers’ needs in order to survive, but their strategies are all very different. Even as they face a recession and dwindling revenue, media companies are learning how to deal with the hurdles as they work towards a presence on the profitable Web.

Photo Caption (left to right): Moderator Bill Wagner, Steve Wildstrom, Richard S. Dunham, Grant Gross

–Rebecca Bredholt

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