In the era of Will Randolph Hearst, it was called the teletype not twitter, celebrities signed autographs instead of writing blogs, and major retail chains advertised on newspaper pages not on self -branded Facebook pages. Then, newspapers made a profit. Today, in a media environment quite different, these same papers, many of which have been around for well over 100 years, are struggling to stay alive faced with dwindling advertising revenues and increased competition in the digital landscape.
According to a 2008 Pew Research survey, more Americans got their news online than in a printed newspaper. Over the last few years, this trend has forced every newspaper with an interest in survival to create an online presence. From Mmegi, the largest independent daily in Botswana to Burma’s Myanmar Times, publications the world over can be read from any computer or cell phone with internet access. In many cases, this move to digital is a necessary evil less the newspapers face bankruptcy or closure.
On Jan. 9, media giant Hearst Corp. put the Seattle Post-Intelligencer up for sale, a result of financial losses dating back to 2000. When nothing came of their proposal, Hearst decided the PI would go to an all-digital format, printing its last issue March 17. While the publication may have left 117,600 weekday readers without an inked paper in the morning, they have survived online with a new demographic of four million unique visitors each month.
For the readers of the PI, as well as those of other papers across the country, the ability to read the news for free and at their convenience is rather appealing. However, while newspapers are increasing their digital readership, the problem has always been and remains how to make money from their online content. For newspapers, it comes down to two options: charging a subscription fee or banking on online advertising.
For some, the subscription model has worked well. The Wall Street Journal, which has been charging an online subscription rate for the last 13 years, has reported tremendous growth in the last year. Following suit, Newsday has announced it will begin charging for its content. The Christian Science Monitor reports that, starting in April, it will begin delivering a daily paper in email format.
Recently, Steven Swartz, the president of Hearst newspapers, announced that his company will begin charging readers for select articles on many of their newspaper’s web sites. Both the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle are among the 179 newspapers Hearst either owns or has a financial interest in.
A local example can be found with the departed Rocky Mountain News. Former staffers have pledged to deliver news and other content on a new website, InDenverTimes.com, if 50,000 paid subscribers sign up by April 23.
While very popular, the online subscription model is not new. It began as the experiment of The New York Times with their program TimesSelect.
The publisher charged a subscription fee to view the work of select columnists and to gain access to the paper’s archives. The Times abandoned the program in 2007 after two years of operation, reporting that subscription proceeds, which rose to $10-million a year from 227,000 paying subscribers, could not exceed the potential advertising revenue with a free site. For The Times, at least, this has worked well.
According to Nielsen Online, the paper’s website, nytimes.com, had received 18.2-million visitors in December of last year. And with the success of The Times, many more papers are adopting and banking on the advertising model.
According to the Newspaper Association of America, online newspaper advertising rose 18 percent in 2007. Ad platforms like QuadrantOne – released last year as a joint venture between the Gannett Co., Hearst Corp., Tribune Co., and The New York Times Co. – promise advertisers the chance to put their message online in front of 46-million sets of eyes each month. Yahoo’s Newspaper Consortium and the Newspaper National Network offer similar services, the latter of which boasts placement in over 9,000 online publications across the country.
But to attract advertisers, newspaper websites need visitors, and in today’s age, this means going to where the people are, the online universe of new media and social networking. To stay ahead of the game, newspapers have been clamoring to jump onboard popular online tools like Twitter and Facebook.
Users of Twitter post 140 character updates, or tweets, as they are called – for those who are following the user to read online. Twitter has succeeded as users follow their friends as well as a growing number of celebrities, politicians, brands and, as the potential for the dissemination of news on Twitter’s micro-blogging platform is beginning to become apparent, a growing number of newspapers. Many Twitter users have proven the viability of quick and instantaneous news briefs by becoming citizen journalists and tweeting live first person accounts of the earthquakes in China, California forest fires, terrorist attacks in Mumbai and the US Airways plane crash on the Hudson River in New York, the latter of which was viewed over 40,000 times.
Tweets can be sent from computers as well as cell phones, greatly enhancing the opportunities to break news as it happens. Not to be outdone, The New York Times has acquired a Twitter presence which has grown to over 348,000 followers who have so far received over 29,000 tweets. These posts, by both The Times and many more newspapers online, tease news stories and feature links that direct viewers over to the full article on the paper’s website. By posting news as it happened, The Times and other papers who Twitter, have a better chance of gaining readers interested in up to the minute coverage.
This same practice takes place on the social networking site Facebook, where 175-million users currently interact with friends and become “fans” of organizations they like. The 360,000 fans of The New York Times can go to the newspaper’s Facebook page and view links to articles back on nytimes.com as well as look through pictures and watch self-generated streaming video reports. The Times has even gone as far as creating Facebook applications that engage fans of the paper, such as a news quiz to test knowledge of current events.
These examples of new media applications are but the first generation of what will soon become available and popular. As new ones appear, newspapers will surely participate in order to win over the ever increasing numbers of people looking to get their news online and as it happens. Whether the subscription or advertising model wins out is a question likely to be best answered by Generations X, Y and Z, the same people who are using, creating and pushing these online tools.
DUS And The Future
April 2009 marks not only the 22nd anniversary of the Denver Urban Spectrum, but also a new era for the paper. While decreased advertising and a bad economy have hit DUS as hard as any media organization, these challenges also present new growth opportunities for an already vibrant Denver institution.
It was only a year ago that DUS unveiled its website, denverurbanspectrum.com, as a platform to publish print edition content online. Now, when you click on denverurbanspectrum.com, you will find the DUS Web site has become more than just an online newspaper, but a way to better serve its stated purpose of bringing together people of color and effectively meeting their news, information and entertainment needs.
“We are making every effort possible to change with the times and to continue to provide our readers with what they have enjoyed over the last 22 years in a new and refreshed format – and more,” said DUS publisher Rosalind “Bee” Harris. “Our focus has always been spreading the news about people of color. Our enhanced focus and format will be not only spreading the news but connecting people with people – locally, nationally and internationally.”
One way the DUS has sought to do this is through the creation of ConnectMe, a social network site designed, and destined to become the premiere online space for people of color. Everyone is encouraged to become a member; create a free profile, and connect to other DUS readers in Denver, the U.S. and abroad. Those on ConnectMe can interact with other members, post photos and videos, and contribute to online discussion forums. An added bonus is the ability to interact with publisher Harris, Editor Roger K. Clendening and other DUS contributors, all of whom are members.
Another way DUS has made its contributing writers more accessible is through the many blogs that make up SpectrumTalk, an offshoot of the main site. DUS contributors such as Randle Loeb, George Bamu, Annette Walker, Ifalade Ta’Shia Asanti, Helen Burleson and Dr. S. Abayomi O. Meeks upload blog posts frequently. These postings are at the discretion of the writers and will often include extended coverage of an article that appears in the paper as well as new subjects relating to issues important to the writers. Loeb will often blog about the issue of homelessness throughout the city while Bamu will tackle matters pertaining to Africa. SpectrumTalk also features poetry, health tips and postings on local cultural events.
Those looking to further immerse themselves in the social scene are encouraged to review denverurbanspectrum.com’s Around Town photo gallery. It displays photos from all of the important DUS functions and other parties, events and happenings around the city of Denver. Web site visitors can browse image galleries from each event and order select photos to be printed and shipped to them. Another offering for the visual-minded is DUS’ multi-cultural art gallery which promotes the work of local artists in high-resolution images.
Another way to support DUS’s loyal advertisers is the development of DAG – a digital advertising guide. Beginning in April, current print advertisers will be included in the guide automatically. But most importantly, this guide is available for advertisers who might miss the monthly print issue’s deadline or who want to inroduce the public to a last minute event.
To make sure they stay current on these local happenings, readers can sign up for the DUS mailing list that discusses community events, giveaways, free movie passes and an upcoming E-newsletter. DUS readers should also check the online listings available in the site’s event calendar as well as the business and community directories.
Even with this increased focus on connecting the diverse Denver communities, DUS has not lost sight of the great content it produces and the constant effort to improve upon it. While being a monthly newspaper often limits the extent of the content, being online has allowed DUS to publish articles more frequently and more timely. Drawing on the success of nationally known entertainment writer Kam Williams, denverurbanspectrum.com will now feature Williams’ movie and book reviews and interviews more frequently.
Finally, remember that you, our loyal readers, are invited, and so do not forget to attend, the 22nd anniversary celebration of the Denver Urban Spectrum on Sunday, April 19 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Improv, located in Northfield at Stapleton. The event will be hosted by Denver’s own Sam Adams. Demonstrations of DUS’s enhanced Web site features will be displayed throughout the party and Denver’s “wannabe” comedians will be displayed on the big screen.
For more information on the celebration, call 303-292-6446 or E-mail TimeTravel@urbanspectrum.net.
On the record Sam Adams is the stand-up comedian who does NOT look like that guy on the beer bottle.
An audience-pleaser with his sometimes twisted-but-always true tales, Adams has been a headliner, featured performer, guest speaker and master of ceremonies at comedy clubs and corporate events across the country. He has shared stages as a leadoff act for touring headline comedians and national recording music acts – a wide-ranging list of genres from comedians Frank Caliendo, Daniel Tosh and Mike Epps to music’s David Sanborn, Al Jarreau, Air Supply, The Guess Who, Stylistics, Chi-lites, Starship and the legendary Lettermen..
Off theecord, Sam Adams is an award-winning sports journalist who has reported sports on a local and national level since 1986, with appearances on ESPN, Fox Sports Net and the NFL Network. In 2003 he received the ‘Print Journalist of the Year’ award from the Colorado Association of Black Journalists. Sam Adams has covered championship events at all levels – most notable four Super Bowls, two Olympics, two NCAA men’s basketball Final Fours, one Stanley Cup Finals and one World Series