Editorial: Publishers must turn to the Web

There’s never been a greater need for unbiased, agenda-free reporting and analysis, yet news over the past few months confirms this isn’t a propitious time for media. From large publishers to small, everyone is feeling the pressure of advertisers and readers fleeing from print to online. Some media companies are prepared for the new age of media, others not.

Time Inc., the nation’s largest magazine publisher, addressed this challenge as any corporation would: with layoffs. The company shut bureaus nationwide and in Paris and let go of 289 editorial and business-side employees. Even employees for Time and People magazines – the jewels in the Time Inc. crown – were not spared.

These layoffs come amidst a flurry of activity in the media world, particularly affecting publishers heavily reliant on newspapers. The Wall Street Journal cut its width to save costs. It also reinterpreted its editorial focus toward more analysis and forward-looking articles. But parent Dow Jones & Co. is under pressure to 
return value to shareholders. So is The New York Times Co., whose eponymous newspaper produces some of the best journalism.

The owner of the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently went a step further and succumbed to Wall Street pressure by selling the newspaper to a private equity roup. The Knight Ridder Group, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald, also reacted to shareholder unhappiness and sold itself to McClatchy. Tribune Co., publisher of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, reportedly received a buyout offer from its largest shareholder, the Chandler family trusts. It should consider the offer.

Even those who thought they could turn around stellar brands now realize there’s no magic bullet. A public relations executive who led the buyout from McClatchy of the Philadelphia Inquirer realized this at his peril. No surprise that he’s cut positions on the newspaper. This should be a lesson for those billionaires seeking the new vanity plate: a hometown newspaper.

Newspaper and magazine brands – consumer and business – have to reorient their publishing focus to the Web. They have to staff up to meet online publishing requirements. They have to turn their paper brands into media vehicles that offer analysis of news and events likely to affect consumers and businesses today and tomorrow. They have to charge more for online advertising, and that requires 
standing up to advertisers. Publishers, more or less, have lost the battle to charge for content online. Hence the need for an online advertising rate card with spine. They have to turn their Web site editions into the flagship: NYTimes.com versus The New York Times broadsheet, for example.

It’s not that people are reading less. They’ve just shifted to a more interactive medium. The future of the knowledge economy – America’s edge over other countries – is at stake if publishers and advertisers fail to read the consumers.

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