Time and Times

Nearly two months after it cut 289 employees so it could address “the needs of the Web site, specials, and other technologies that will be emerging,” Time Inc. has launched a sweeping redesign of its eponymous news magazine, the publication’s biggest overhaul in 15 years. According to the New York Post, the redesigned Time features “more short news items – some no longer than a paragraph – and points of departure to Web sites all through the mag.”

Is this an indication of the future of printed news media — print editions becoming pointers to the publications’ websites? It would certainly be a reversal of a decade ago when the publications’ websites pointed to the printed editions. Back then, most publishers of news though it would be decades, if at all, before online editions superceded printed editions. I think we can safely say that’s instead happening this decade.

When asked if his newspaper will be printed on paper in the future, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. publisher of The New York Times, said, “I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care either.” He told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that his paper is managing the transition from print to Internet.

Nevertheless, I sense hypocracy among those publishers (Sulzberger is not one of them) who cut their print editions’ staff, claim they are switching their company’s focus from print to online, but then don’t significantly add any online staff. I think they’re just cloaking print staff cuts under the trendy excuse that they’re switching focus to online.

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Last month, I wrote about why The New York TimesTimesSelect paid online content experiment has failed despite gaining nearly $10 million in annual revenue. Among other things, I mentioned a remark George Mason University online journalism professor Steve Klein made:

“Even if the Times picked up most of its existing online readers, how are they going to grow a new generation of online Op-Ed readers if they keep the columnists behind a pay firewall?”

Starting tomorrow, the Times will grant TimesSelect access to all students and faculty who have .edu e-mail addresses. “It’s part of our journalistic mission to get people talking on campuses,” said Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and general manager at NYTimes.com, as reported in Editor & Publisher magazine. “We wanted to open that up so that college students and professors can have a dialogue,” Schiller said. “”I want to reinforce that this is the most important generation for us to reach out to.”

The Times apparentlly hopes those students will pay for TimesSelect access after graduation. That’s a nice hope, but I think it will just put the those students into the same predicament TimesSelect has with everyone else: Will people who previously had free access to that content pay for it? After 18 months, the Times has gotten only a 1.6 percent of its websites’ users to pay for TimesSelect. Perhaps granting students free access now will someday raise that conversion rate to 1.8 or 2 percent. Even if the rate were to double, it’s hardly a success

One thought on “Time and Times

  1. I think we’re in the middle of that flow which interprets change in technological terms, as if what we’re seeing is part of its wake. The result is we try to see our responses in the same terms. SO newspapers are trying to catch up with their reader communities on the web. I would read more of my newspaper, and buy others, if they wrote about what interests me, challenged me more, demonstrated a superior take on events, revealed things I don’t know, and gave me a sense that they have qualities such as intellectual ledership and courage. It’s their moral demise that turns me off – and guess what I write for one.

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