About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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« More on Detroit: Changing Habits | Main | Advertising After Newspapers »

December 16, 2008


Steve Outing

Mark: I'm feeling a bit more pessimistic than you, I think. The only savings are from delivery 4 days a week; they're still producing a paper every single day. The "off" days I believe will be 32 pages, so that's a lighter load than before, but papers have been thinning for a while so perhaps not all that much difference for the editorial staff. And since they are charging for the off-day editions (a decision I think is a mistake), they have to be good enough that people will actually buy them. So I question where this money and extra time to seriously develop all the promised new online and mobile services will come from. The corporate treasure chests of Gannett and MediaNews?

If Detroit's executives truly put digital first and at the center, and make the off-day papers fairly simple to produce by making them secondary to the websites and pulling content from the digital core, then there may be room for some progress with online and mobile innovations. But if the print editions still take up too much organizational bandwidth, expect to see a Pinto and not a Prius. The companies made this move out of desperation, after all, more so than because they have a bold vision of the future and can't wait to get there! They're financially challenged, so it's difficult to feel hopeful.

The official announcement says, "These bold changes include a focus on more robust and more engaging digital delivery methods, and support the continued publication of two daily newspapers." That's "A focus...", which does not fill me with confidence.

I'd love to see Detroit lead the way. My guess is that some other city will take that honor.

Mark Potts

Gee, Steve, I'm so rarely accused of being optimistic (or at least not pessimistic) about the newspaper industry!

In this case, I guess it's a glass half-empty/half-full thing. Yes, the Detroit papers still will be publishing, albeit in a reduced form, seven days a week. But I still think this is going to help focus their efforts on what needs to be done online.

Will it be enough? Probably not. But compared to the rest of the industry, it may be fairly dramatic (which is probably damning with faint praise).

Will the answer to the industry's problems emerge from Detroit? Maybe, even probably, not, as you say. But at the moment--and there will doubtless be events over the next weeks and months to change the handicapping of this equation--Detroit looks like a revolution. Which says a lot, unfortunately, about the rest of the industry.

Chris M.

Newspapers in Europe have seen quite a spike in people who download the PDF of the printed version of their newspaper. Look it up.

You may not like the format, I may not like the format, but don't look past a certain segment that still wants the news this way. When the U.S. metro newspaper I worked at offered the PDF, it had a surprisingly high download rate, too. And it cost us nothing. And we had a nice (albeit short) story to tell print advertisers.

What's so wrong with offering yet another way to view the content? Just so long as this isn't the only way.

Charles Barthold

What I don't see in all this is a realization that they need to think about their content. In other words -- write about stuff people care to read about. What the Detroit papers are doing is a smart first step but until they provide article that readers can't get anywhere else they're doomed.

Mark Potts

There are two types of "electronic editions": printable PDFs and electronic facsimiles where you can "turn the page" on the screen. I've never seen hard evidence of a successful launch of either one. They garner hundreds of users, maybe a couple thousand, but that's it. If you've got hard numbers, here or in Europe, please pass them along. And I'd caution against drawing parallels with overseas experiences--cultural differences, market size and other local factors make those comparisons apples and oranges. Britain, for instance, supports a raft of national newspapers, in part because of its size. Minitel was an enormous (subsidized) hit in France. Both were unique situations that could not be replicated in the U.S.

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