2009 and its digital pioneers
It’s been a tumultuous year in the newspaper industry as outlets came and went and journalists waned in newsrooms everywhere. While iconic, newsboys selling papers on the street corner are an archaic concept today. As we head into 2010, will we watch the print newspaper itself slide into antiquity?
In 2009, the newspaper industry saw hundreds of newspapers go under, while several large papers folded. Meanwhile, papers like the Christian Science Monitor paved the path for others when it announced it would go Web-first in April. Beating the CSM to the punch, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer became the largest paper to go completely online in March. Only a month after the print edition of the storied Seattle paper shuttered for good, Hearst officials provided hope for a flailing industry when it touted an increase in monthly unique visitors for the surviving Web edition.
Flash forward to December and the story is the same. The shift online has gone well, said SeattlePI.com executive producer Michelle Nicolosi. The Web site “continues to be very popular with readers, serving more than 35 million pages views per month and nearly 4 million unique users per month, according to Omniture,” she said in an e-mail interview. However, she noted that current Web stats might be misleading as the country’s interest in President Barack Obama created an increase in Web traffic. “Better to wait until March if you want numbers that show you year over year general interest in Web news sites,” she noted.
According to Editor & Publisher, Nicolosi’s observations about Web traffic are on point. In a recent article the trade publication said that top newspaper Web sites took a hit compared to November 2008 during the presidential election. Out of the 30 reported sites, more than half lost unique users in 2009. “USAToday.com, NYTimes.com and LATimes.com lost more than 20 percent unique users in November 2009 year-over-year. The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal eked out gains up 2 percent and 6 percent, respectively,” wrote Editor & Publisher reporter Jennifer Saba. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution came out on top as the paper that had the most sessions per user. Newsday, which went behind a paywall in October, lost uniques in a matter of a month from 2.2 million to 1.7 million in November.
Meanwhile, Christian Science Monitor editor John Yemma said that the Boston-based paper is on-course and is keeping up with its five year plan, which includes increasing online traffic to 30 percent by May 2010. Some of the changes they have made at the publication since going Web-first include implementing ongoing reader surveys “to ensure that we are listening to our readers,” he said in an e-mail interview. In addition, they recently launched a new content management system to improve efficiency, as well as started publishing paid and free newsletters. He said that they have also pushed social media and developed feeds that are compatible with all current e-readers. “On a year-over-year basis, I’m confident that we will significantly exceed that 30 percent increase. By our measure (Omniture), our unique visitors for November were 5 million,” he said.
As a pioneer of the Web-first format, Yemma said that in 2010 “we’ll see more media companies shifting resources away from print to online, which is just a belated reflection of where readers already are.” Meanwhile, newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Post get ready to appear on Sony’s e-reader device. While people will use them, Yemma said he doesn’t think they will be a source of relevant revenue. “The Apple e-reader tablet will wow everyone, but there will be so many platforms with non-transferable content that consumers will throw up their hands and (especially young readers) stay with the deeper interactivity of laptops and smart phones.”
–Katrina M. Mendolera
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