Monday, November 3, 2008

Print Media's Amber Alert Won't Be Issued

The American media model we all grew up with, grew accustomed with and embraced as our informational drinking fountains are drying up. News papers, magazines and other resources are crackling into oblivion like dry trees in a raging wildfire. The print world is being replaced with URL's, hyperlinks and CCS templates to accompany terms like Web 2.0 and blogosphere.

This isn't your father's media, that's for sure.

This morning I opened my daily news primer, courtesy of MediaBistro. If you haven't checked out M-B, it's well worth the fee, which is a few dollars more than a high school varsity football official will make in one game to get a year's worth of access to the national scope of what's news in the media industry. It's an electronic buffet of the best magazine, newspaper and electronic media news from all relevant corners of the country.

That brings me to the dichotomy that so many papers and magazines are facing: At what point to they admit theonline ventures they've engaged themselves in are indeed the future media model to follow and subsequently ditch the hard copy version they were chartered from?

The Christian Science Monitor made huge headlines last month when it announced it was discontinuing the staple magazine-format that had made her famous. I can still remember my dearly-departed journalism professor, the unforgettable Curt Stadtfeld (pictured above), from the fourth floor of Eastern Michigan University's Pray-Harold building, telling us he "missed reading the Christian Science Monitor like an old love; like a taste on the tip of my tongue..." How much do I remember Stadtfeld's lectures? I can still see his outdated shirts in my mind and his voice resonates within my head, his lessons lasting like the thunder of a college fight song's dramatic crescendo.

Rolling Stone is no longer publishing the large, almost poster-sized template that it was pioneered upon. Many national newspaper sites in the larger-than-life media markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have instituted subscription requirements for online access.
One of the more interesting arguments I hear from the old guard at the many small and medium sized newspapers within metro Detroit is that neither the paper or online versions of their product have enough demand to justify eliminating one in favor of the other. My question is how much is one bleeding traffic from the other and vice-versa? I have to believe that the pool of readers and viewers of one is diluted by the other simultaneously.

What if The Oakland Press, Pontiac's flagship news source, ceased publication of the paper to produce a subscription-only online product? If you haven't checked out the new Michigan Prep Zone , you can get a quick look at what the future of a writer's mainstream media will look like. I can't speak for the O-P, or the Free Press or News for that matter, but you can't tell me that day isn't coming. If nothing else, the resources that go into a newspaper are a ten-fold increase over an online edition.

Paper to print upon and delivery of that product from a mill. A facility to produce the paper. Machinery to crank out papers by the thousands. Operational manpower to run the machinery, bundle, package and deliver the paper. Finally, a pool of hungry sharks to procure enough ad revenue to keep the publication afloat while a top-notch editorial staff goes out and pounds the pavement to cultivate a keep an attentive audience.

Conversely, with an exclusive online edition, you have to implement an expensive army of servers with an ocean's worth of mainframe storage and custom CCS creation. Add editors, writers, photographers and design professionals. No expensive machinery to buy, lease or fix. A mountain's worth of savings from a physical production standpoint.

You can see why the old newspaper model is going to fail. When I hear writers lamenting the small fees they are offered to write online, I wonder if they understand that until one or the other fails first, there simply isn't enough cash in the kitty left to pay a good writer what he or she is worth. Further, if a writer wants to get paid, where's the least amount of overhead to be found to pay writers from.

The world is online -- how soon will the writers who could benefit most from it embrace that fact is still open for debate. As for the media world Stadtfeld left behind? I 'Googled' his name and found a pair of letters Stadtfeld penned to Harper's Magazine in the late 1960s as a response to an issue that riled him up beyond mere opinion, because Curtis K. Stadtfeld was never without words. When I clicked on the links to read them in whole, I was told in a matter of words:

"Of course you can read them -- you just have to subscribe for as low as $16.97 a year."

It's time to subscribe to the new media world.

~T.C. Cameron is writing his second book, Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, due August 2009 from Arcadia Publishing.

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