Home | Features | Nov/Dec 09 | The New Media

The New Media

Out with the old, in with the digital

SaraK: Really nice to meet you Prime Minister Harper.

PM Harper: Likewise, what’s your name?

SaraK: Sara Kopamees.

PM Harper: What do you do Sara?

SaraK: I work with a company called George Media, we publish online B2B magazines.

PM Harper: Huh. Making any money?

SaraK: Yes, as a matter of fact, we’re doing really well.

PM Harper: Interesting. I always wondered if it was really possible to make money from the internet.

It didn’t surprise me that when I met Prime Minister Harper, he didn’t know there is, in­deed, a whole world of business online. Though digital publishing is old hat to me, not everyone lives for all that is online.

Technology and getting what I want, when I want it

If you ask me, nothing beats the feel of fresh newsprint and a good cup of coffee in the morn­ing... unless it’s watching the latest live CNN news broadcast on your laptop while you travel to work on the train, using your mobile internet stick.

Technology has brought to the world the in­stantaneous transfer of knowledge and informa­tion. We can communicate to each other instantly, via social media and online blogging. We can get up-to-the-minute news feeds on our Blackber­ries, find the answers to life’s toughest questions on Google, and enjoy the latest news videos on YouTube. But there are many out there, like my­self, who still love the idea of walking to the nearest Starbucks on a Sunday, picking up the Sunday Star or The New York Times, and perus­ing it for hours, while enjoying a strong java.

Like millions of other Gen-Yers, I’m not married to either print or digital media. I have loved both since my days as a teenager, working on the copy desk of a local newspaper, double-checking sports scores up to the last minute before the little daily went to press. I couldn’t wait to see my latest col­umn about angsty teenage issues printed on page 16 of the paper, and I still have all the clippings.

But, sad as it was, money for that paper dried up and it stopped running just a few years after I graduated high school. I’m not sure what happened to my editor, a woman who, just by watching her diligence to get the paper out, you could tell really loved her job. She likely ended up where thousands of others have—in the jobless void created by the new media we so love now. With the prevalence of information sharing via the net, money moved from print publishing into a borderless world online.

The new media, characterized here as any kind of online media that has developed post-internet boom, was born as a result of technology, and has done its worst to traditional print. But as I sit here writing for my digital magazine, The Cana­dian Business Journal, print news is still out there, struggling to make it work in a digital world.

The nostalgia of print

For centuries, print media has offered the public a place to post news, make announcements and share information. Businesses today are able to utilize print media to promote their enterprises and seek new staff. B2B publications are still re­garded as the best way to promote corporations based on their niche places in the market. It might be a struggle to find the same kind of in-depth information about heating and air conditioning in a place other than HPAC magazine, a print publi­cation put out by Rogers Publishing in Toronto.

Print media offers a black and white scenario (pardon the metaphor) through which to com­municate information. If you want to get the message out tomorrow, have your news to the editor today. If you want to sell an old dresser, place a classified ad in Sunday’s paper. If you want to read up on the most recent develop­ments in North American economy and poli­tics, pick up a MacLean’s or Time magazine.

Print publications offer an advertiser, a com­pany or a commentator a sense of validity and integrity and, of course, that is exactly the point. Print is something tangible that cannot be un­done (unless of course, the publication makes a mistake and puts a correction in the next issue).

To add to the credibility that print media holds is the notion that advertising in traditional print puts you alongside the biggest stories and biggest businesses as printed by these maga­zines. Especially in the B2B world—the biggest companies in the world are likely to take full page ads in Canadian Business, because there is a greater possibility someone in the same field—a competitor or an ally—will see the ad.

If you are involved in a marketing campaign for your enterprise, your marketing director will likely develop a marketing schedule or plan that includes big bucks to advertise in a print news source. Or, there might be a concerted effort to garner media attention through cold calls and a press kit, snail mailed to the offices of the editor.

However, we all know that for a few years now, news media in its paper form has been suffering slowly, and some experts think it may even eventually die completely.

There is an unfortunate list of media com­panies that recently have announced ma­jor staffing cuts and some have even filed for bankruptcy protection. Canada’s largest me­dia company, CanWest Global Communications filed for court-sanctioned bankruptcy protec­tion in October, which marked the latest move in its efforts to restructure its debt. The com­pany ran a $3.6 billion debt earlier this year.

Although the voluntary filing is rumoured not to have disrupted the operation of CanWest’s Global Television and a host of local cablers, and the fate of The National Post, its flagship news­paper, hangs in the balance. CanWest has been struggling for quite some time after it neglected to pay $30.4 million in interest this past March.

Things in the U.S. aren’t much better. In Oc­tober, Time Inc., the publisher of Time magazine, People, Sports Illustrated and Fortune, announced it would cut 600 jobs and reorganize its staff. The largest newspaper publisher in the U.S., Gan­nett, announced it would lay off 10 per cent of its workforce, and the Los Angeles Times announced it would cut 75 people from the newsroom just days earlier than the Gannett announcement.

To add to the starkly negative figures, a report on Yahoo Finance in October announced that in the past six months average daily circulation at 379 U.S. newspapers dropped 10.6 per cent from the same April-September time period last year. This is the largest drop recorded in the last decade’s decline in paid readership.

Could it be that previously sceptical in­ternet news users are now recognizing that online media is simply better, faster, and easier to digest? Or is there still a place for print media that will live forever?

The question of validity

The question of validity is one that has al­ways challenged the online community, espe­cially when it comes to news. How do you know what you’re reading is true? Well, the easiest answer for that question is to see the heavy­weight print outlets are, in fact, investing into their online presence. Almost every news outlet in North America now devotes a whole depart­ment to keeping the online versions of their media up-to-date and accurate. They’re seeing the truth in the digital argument—that digi­tal media might not be a fixture on your night­stand, but it can live forever in your hard drive.

Whoever has the most up-to-the-second on­line news, wins. As more of us venture online to get our news, commentary and information, the media gets better at making it accurate, read­able and newsworthy. Facts behind a full-length feature can be collected up to the second mak­ing for more in-depth reporting—you can’t get more accurate than reporting a statistic that was only made to the public a minute ago.

The advantages to online media

Obviously, I’m a bit biased about how impor­tant it is for media to become digitized. In our world of instantaneousness and what’s hot right now, I’m of course the first person to ask for a digital copy of a news story, updates about the world on my BlackBerry and an online subscription to MacLean’s.

But with digital media, we’re not just talking about taking print to the web. It’s much more compli­cated than that. Being in the digital media business, companies like ours (George Media) are opening a whole world up to advertisers and writers alike who once had to write to week-out deadlines and strug­gle after print because a spelling error was made.

Now, things are different. You can work on a story up to minutes before it’s published. Print costs are a thing of the past and that means you can cover more news, sooner. You can also offer your advertisers much more in terms of value-adds.

With online advertising, you simply reach more people. Without tooting our own horn, The Canadian Business Journal saw 757,385 unique visitors to our website last month. 

Unlike print media, where circulation is mea­sured by subscriptions and printed copies, digi­tal media outlets are able to track exactly how many people read the magazine and for how long.  Moreover, the content lives on forever, on magazine websites. All publications online, all of­fering tremendous value-adds to advertisers.

The sceptics

Of course, there are hoards of sceptics out there who sim­ply don’t believe that online media, in any form, could ever reach the validity and integrity of print media. But with many dailies and monthly switching to digital format (The Boston Globe re­cently announced the launch of GlobeReader, the digital version of The Boston Globe newspaper that can be read offline or on­line), maybe it’s time to accept that the future of media is online.

If the New York Times still exists in print format in ten years, I will probably pick up a copy every once and a while to read over a latte at my nearest Starbucks. But, more than likely, I’ll be ham­mering out my latest editor’s note, two minutes before my digi­tal magazine goes live, ready to see the hits come in.
I bet, by then, Mr. Harper will have his own online sub­scription to all of his favourite magazines.