The Time for Triage
October 2009

In his essay in this month's Digital Journalist, Contributing Editor Mark Loundy makes the case for a drastic solution to the problems confronting journalism. His solution is very simple, but also very painful: Stop publishing printed newspapers.

Most publishers already know this. But they can't bring themselves to euthanizing the very thing they love the most. Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes recently predicted the end of printed newspapers and magazines. The end is indeed near.

The act of printing a newspaper or magazine dictates that 80 percent of revenue goes to just the printing and distribution. Actual production of content accounts for less than 20 percent of the budget. But at the end of the day, it is only the content that is relevant. Yet, that 20 percent is the only area that can be cut to compensate for losses in circulation and advertising. That is why over 35,000 newsroom jobs in the United States have been lost in the last year.

The future, if there is one for those content providers, exists solely online. But as long as publishers continue to try to save their print product, they are unable to give their new online editions the financial support they need.

To allow these online editions to survive, financial resources that are being squandered in a vain attempt to keep broadsheets alive must be redirected. Advertising in particular must be aimed at promoting the online brand, and only that.

In stark terms, from a business point of view, if the brand is the name of the company, anything that threatens that brand must be eliminated. Print editions are essentially a conflict of interest when trying to build and position the online editions.

Our concern is in trying to save journalism. We don't care about what form that content comes in. Doctors, when confronted by mass casualties, realize the first thing they need to do is identify which ones stand a chance of survival and which don't. The resources must go to those who may live. Unfortunately, we are facing that choice today in journalism. The choice must be made now.

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