CAN YOU BE A LITTLE PREGNANT ONLINE:THE PAPERS DILEMMA

REFLECTIONS ON THE SOCIETY OF EDITORS AND THEIR GOOD NEWS

Going to the Society of Editors Conference in Glasgow-under the rubric ‘HAVE WE GOT GOOD NEWS FOR YOU..’-is  a bit like visiting  a maiden aunt whilst half pregnant and pretending to be a virgin. The herd of elephants in the ballroom of the refurbished Central Hotel right above the station was the internet. Few of the newspaper editors present had yet fully worked out how dead trees and ink  related to cyberspace and vice versa..writes John Mair

For too many the internet was a Johnny Come Lately, an add on their print product and one which cannibalised it and produced very little revenue in return. Many seemed to embrace it very very tentatively and gingerly. A simple illustration. In the ballroom  only the trade press hacks were using laptops to blog and keep abreast of the Conference and the world outside. Pen and paper sufficed  for most others. The Editors  all know their sales figures are surely but swiftly going down,their advertising-especially classifieds and property-have migrated permanently to the internet, but they do not know just how do they integrate the net into their central offer? That was and is the crunch question. Writes John Mair…

The paywall came in for examination but without News International to defend their  corner and their recently released, distributed and hotly disputed figures. Prince Hal/James was elsewhere but Glasgow. Most papers are not in a position to erect a paywall though micropayments proved to have some attractions. So too did holding back the exclusives. One local editor to whom I spoke had just issued an edict that  no exclusives were to be not online before printing. No web first for  him. Others like the Manchester Evening News had used the web as a new way to connect  to and  to drill down and find new audiences in local areas and local interest groups. They had for example allowed Manchester City Fans to open up the site to blue rather than the normal red-Manchester United’s- colour as background.Simple but effective.

The one true light at the end of the dark tunnel was Martin Clarke publisher of the super soaraway Mail Online-Britain’s most read. He told his designers to make it look like the Mail and he’s made it work with  plenty of content and celebrities. At least he realised it was a new and exciting platform and said he was making it pay its way. Too many of the others  are sulking and blaming the BBC for being first in the cyber-room. What they forget is that DG John Birt had great foresight(four words I never thought I would write..)and saw the possibilities of the net and invested in it. The local and regional British papers were too busy living off the fat of the classified land and 35% annual profit margins to think ahead. Now they are caught out. Their  audiences want better and faster news, whenever, wherever on whatever platform. They have to try and find them rather than vice versa.

Glasgow was bereft of the Digital Maniacs who inhabit the likes of newsrewired. It missed their zeal and creativity if not their swivelling eyes and proselytising. The Internet is the great media Disruptor of our time. You go with it, think far ahead and creatively and find the audience wherever, whenever you can.Content is still king .One thing you cannot do is ignore it. Carnage in print newspapers is coming but without embracing the net wholeheartedly it will be sooner and swifter. Sorry Great Aunt Gertrude but it’s not possible to be half pregnant on this one.

With thanks to the BBC College of Journalism(bbc.co.uk/journalism)for permission to reprint

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