Hard Times In New York Town

NYTimes

Who wants yesterday’s papers?
Who wants yesterday’s girl?
Who wants yesterday’s papers?
Nobody in the world.

Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones wrote this about his ex-girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton in the 1960’s – but today it seems consumers on a wider scale don’t even want today’s ‘paper’.  Much has been written about falling readership and the rise of new media, micro-bloggers and so on.  Sharp decreases in ad revenue, job losses and tangible changes in media consumption have also left The Independent Newspaper in the UK asking (in a very funky, interactive way) “What next for newspapers?’.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers thinks we should stop talking about the death of newspapers and start talking about the rise of news brands. To paraphrase their report, they believe trusted news brands will still hold sway, however the delivery mechanism and interaction with content will be radically different.  Of course, this is already happening.

The New York Times is one such ‘traditional’ media outlet grappling with the change.  Their Facebook (460,000 fans and an immense amount of content), Twitter (1.4m followers on the main channel alone with many other individual channels), and blog section (with 70-80 RSS feeds in specific areas of interest) give consumers options to access the media on their own terms – more opportunities for more people to interact more often.  Fantastic.  I am personally subscribed to a number of their online touchpoints, without needing to pick up a copy of the paper from a Manhattan street vendor.

This process of change raises two questions though – who manages this new space, and should all this stuff be free?

The first question of management – NY Times’ appointed Social Media Editor was recently criticised for not being fully immersed in the social media space.  Mashable wondered why Jennifer Preston, despite her job title, hadn’t tweeted in over a month (and then the day after the report was posted, why her frequency of posting went through the roof).  Her response was that she was in the process of ‘listening’ and working out how she can best bring value to the conversation and most effectively guide her journalists.

Mashable make a valid point.  Full credit to the NY Times for identifying the need to change and having a red hot go at it – but how can you be a social media editor and not fully utilise all the tools, participate in the conversation, and learn from inevitable mistakes when starting out?

I imagine an extensive amount of human and technical resource goes into managing the output and content of their social communities, without these consumers helping to pay the bills for their offices, computers, photographers, editors, and quality investigative reporters through newspaper sales and subscriptions (outside of online ad revenues).  And while the paper also ‘profits’ from increased user engagement, time spent with brand, and on a number of other metrics,  the second question arises – should it continue to be free?

NY Times are reconsidering the overall structure of their business model, recently asking subscribers if they would be willing to pay for online content.  The Wall Street Journal is already charging US$1.99/week for access to online premium content.  The possibility exists for New York Times to charge $US5 a month to access news/blog/multimedia content online.  They have already dabbled in this area – ending a 2 year experiment in 2007 that generated US$10m annually from premium subscriptions – which at its peak attracted 200,000 users.

The broader issue is that NY Times is only one publication – and that this trend can be multiplied across the hundreds and thousands of local and national newspapers globally.  Should all content be free?  Or should we move to a subscription model?  Should this be for all content, or premium content only?  How much is a fair price? And would you consider paying for all news sites?  eg. you would pay US$5 a month for the New York Times content, but not a cent for the Banbury Cake newspaper?

The danger of course (which is a frightening thought) is that after all the journalists have disappeared, future news services may be reduced to Today Tonight reports on extending your life by 20 years, celebrity gossip rubbish and popular content on major online portals funded by display advertising.  Is this where we want to be?  Or should we all pitch in and save credible journalism?

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