Christian Science Monitor abandons print -- could the New York Times be next?

BlogHer Original Post

Remember EPIC -- the uncanny dystopic 2004 flash movie that predicted that the combination of social media and advanced search technologies would drive the New York Times out of business by 2014 and create a society in which one mammoth corporation stored, controlled and delivered all of our information? Between the recent announcement that the Christian Science Monitor and US News and World Report are ending their print editions, and the ongoing free-fall in the Times' stock price, at least part of that movie's vision may actually be coming to pass.

Or maybe not.

According to recent news reports, by April, 2009, the Monitor will abandon its weekday print edition in favor of an online daily, a daily and a weekly print digest. Company executives say that the move will save millions in production costs and allow the organization to focus its resources on producing a high-quality web product. The move was not completely unexpected, since the national newspaper's print circulation had been dropping for years while online traffic has been steadily rising.

The announcement came just as the Monitor celebrated the centennial of its founding by Mary Baker Eddy with a conference on the future of journalism. (You can watch the archived webcast.) At that event, Jonathan Wells, managing publisher of the Christian Science Publishing Society said the shift in the company's business model constituted "bold steps to insure its sustainability and expand its reach." 

 Still the announcement that one of the nation's most prestigious national newspapers is going online elicited widespread reaction. The normally loquacious Gawker.com's lead said it all: "Wow." What followed by this prediction from CSM editor:

“We have the luxury — the opportunity — of making a leap that most
newspapers will have to make in the next five years,” Mr. Yemma said.

US News and World Report is the first major newsweekly to make the online move.  Their ad revenue, too, has been dropping for a while now. According to Nov. 4 memo to employees (scroll down),

As most of you know, we are organizing
our efforts around five key vertical content channels that will operate
as self-contained editorial and business units with their own goals for
development and growth, and their own dedicated teams – Nation &
World/Opinion, Health, Money & Business, Education and Rankings
& Reviews. This is the next phase of our brand transformation that
began last spring when we announced that we were moving away from a
weekly magazine with a discrete website to become a multi-platform
digital publisher of news you can use and analysis.

 Not everyone is throwing up their hands in horror at this turn of events. In fact, some observers think it's pretty smart. Here's Abel Keogh at Sapha:

[T]heir move to online publications should be welcome news for
advertisers who are looking for effective advertising avenues and ways
to make sure they’re getting the most for the money they spend.

 Laura Oliver notes that just about the time that the Monitor made its announcement, Netscape co-founder Marc Andressen was counseling the New York Times to make the same move. In fact, Dr. Denny at Scholars and Rogues argues that the Times should probably abandon print soon in order to meet its debts and preserve the value of its assets. 

Ironically, this flight from print is happening just as print editions of newspapers for Nov. 5, 2008 sold out across the country because people wanted a tangible keepsake of the presidential election of Sen. Barack Obama. In fact, Poynter.org is selling a collection of newspaper front pages fro that day for $14.95.

The bottom line, says columnist Leonard Pitts, is that we should all hope that this stampede to online helps to preserve independent journalism, if we want democracy to survive, because "only a newspaper reporter will dig through the mayor's garbage on your behalf."

Are you looking forward to seeing your favorite newspaper move exclusively online? 

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