Who’s next as the media transforms?
It must have been hard for Serge Schmemann to start his Oct. 14 editorial with the sentence, “This is the last time you will be reading The International Herald Tribune.” The paper with a 126-year-old history printed its last copy yesterday; from today on, it will be known as the “The International New York Times,” the international edition of The New York Times.
As could be understood from an Oct. 13 story on The Guardian, based on the words of Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the NYT, there will still be a print dimension on the International NYT, but the focus will be much more on its webpage. The NYT webpage has an amazing 59 million unique users per month, a third of whom live outside the United States. The NYT under Abramson had started to sell content on the web – in another words, it had shifted to a paid-content system with success where many other papers or TV stations around the world had failed.
There are reasons for that. The U.S. is the world’s leading economic, military and thus political power. It is also the number-one player in the entertainment industry and in terms of technological achievements. (Watch how the new shale gas extraction technology has already started to transform not only the energy balances of the world but also the political geography of the greater Middle East, as American needs for regional resources decrease.) People all around the world are curious about what is happening in the place where most of the meal is cooked, and quantity means everything for the digital media, at least the revenue side of it, despite Abramson’s faithful mention about keeping up with good, quality journalism.
It appears that it is U.S. readers, not international ones, who are keeping the NYT digital revenues up, since only a tenth of some 700,000 digital subscribers are from abroad. Among the NYT web audience, 66 percent are from U.S. accounts, the second is Canada at 5 percent, while the United Kingdom is third at 4 percent, we learn from The Guardian article. It is natural that the NYT will focus more on the needs of its domestic audience to become the prime national news source for them while keeping an international slot with enriched international content to attract more eyeballs from the rest of the world. It makes sense when you consider that on Aug. 5, its main rival, The Washington Post (which has suffered a 44 percent drop in revenues in the last six years), was bought by Jeff Bezos for $250 million preparatory to a digital transformation that will see it integrated into the Amazon.com system.
Meanwhile, the NYT sold the Boston Globe to John W. Henry, the owner of sports teams the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool for $70 million; the NYT had paid a record-breaking $1.1 billion for the Globe in 1993. The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News were sold by their publishers earlier this year to a local investor for $55 million; they had turned down a $515 million offer in 2006.
Bezos gives “two decades” at most for print journalism; he believes digital will take over. On the other hand, digital technology is not profitable enough for those who fail to establish a sort of news-monopoly over a certain audience or who fail to combine it with another global business like Bezos’. For those with a news monopoly over guaranteeing a break-even point, print might survive as well.
But the greater picture shows us that, there will be fewer and fewer newspapers and fewer and fewer newsrooms to satisfy the information needs of people around the globe and to be frank, unless they are supported by a newspaper or a TV station, there is no successful model for an all-digital newsroom yet to produce reliable news through quality journalism; it is too expensive.
It is sad to say, but our beloved print journalism is coming to an end with the need to find a new way to make digital sustainable. If this is not found, it will not only be quality journalism and quality journalists who lose out, but also the concept of freedom of press and expression.