• Re-evaluating the state of the print media

    By James Sved on May 10, 2013


    NEW YORK (Herald de Paris) —  Where to now.  stateofthemedia.org, a project of the Pew Research Center, insists that the state of our industry is dire.  However, half the problems in the print media are self-inflicted wounds perpetuated by executives more intent on making a buck than in actually reporting the news in the public trust.  The other half are, quite frankly, also self-inflicted by an industry unwilling to accept change.  Let me explain.

    Mr. Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1454.  In the 600’ish years since, the printing industry changed very little.  Sure, the presses got faster and more efficient, but the basic premise of putting ink on paper was essentially the same.  Not any more.  The Internet has changed the game, and in the rapidly evolving age we live in, evolution is happening faster than ever.  Schools no longer teach cursive.  You can “earn” a PhD from a for-profit university that only exists in cyberspace.  The magazines and the newspapers we all grew up with are disappearing.

    But do they have to?

    We have all heard the complaints.  “People don’t read, any more .. the Internet stole our readers.”  Well, which is it? Because it can’t be both.  I would argue that there are more readers than ever by the process of simple math.  Since 1960 there are twice as many people on our planet (and half as many trees).  Therefore, and with the proliferation of literacy, there should be more than twice as many readers, non?  Therefore, the problem is not that there aren’t any readers anymore, but that they have changed venues.  My sixteen year old son and his friends don’t talk, they sent text messages to one another.  They blog.  They are on Facebook and Twitter and any number of sites which require, yes, reading.  The challenge for newspapers and magazines, then, is to leap off the 600 year old printed page and find the new age of readers on their medium.

    Proof, you say?  It is everywhere.  The television news outlets are all over the Internet, and what are they doing?  They are transcribing their broadcast news stories so that people can read them.  Why would they do this unless it were profitable, and by profitable I mean that there are willing and able readers?  They wouldn’t.  You see, the Internet is the great leveler of the news media – print, radio, and broadcast must now all play on the same playing field.  It’s brilliant, really – kind of like bringing the NFL and the AFL, or the NBA and the ABA, together to compete head-to-head.  But in this scenario, can the print media compete? Absolutely.  The problem, however, is how to convince an industry that has remained the same for 600 years to evolve.

    This is not to say that there aren’t other problems.  Because there are.  Since approximately 1968, as far as I can tell, there has been a paradigm shift in the general education where a populous is being graded at a homogeneous, middle level.  Now, every kid is assumed to be exactly the same – which is impossible in a world so diverse as ours.  This coupled with a chemical-filled food supply and other factors has resulted in two generations of increasingly attention deficit consumers who can’t necessarily tell the difference between news, advertising, fact, or fiction.  We were all raised to think that preservative-filled breakfast cereals were part of a nutritious breakfast because they tasted good but more because this fact was beaten into us in 30-second intervals. This 30 second, questionable quality advertising mentality has permeated everything we now do. But back to the print media.

    During this 40 year span, the daily newspaper has handed itself many of its own problems.  Take, for example, one particular newspaper that – long before Twitter – told us we could learn everything we needed to know about the news from every state in the union in two sentence summaries.  So, too, our industry has given rise to the tabloid media, where truth is subjective and name-calling is considered proper.  Lest we forget the proliferation of media outlets who decided that if they could not find controversy to report accurately, they would create it themselves.  This brings us to the mother of all publishing news media mistakes, blogging.

    My aforementioned son is a blogger.  He is a very good writer.  But he is not a professional journalist.  The biggest blunder of them all was the decision by the print media to have its professional journalists blog.  This is not to say that blogging is bad, because there are some very good bloggers, and guess what?  For all the millions of bloggers out there there are millions of good old fashioned readers reading what they write.  But by having professional journalists blog, the print media industry lowered the bar on its own credibility.  Tell me one other major industry outside of the print media or the film industry where executives undermined their creative professional employees by making them just like everyone else? What the news industry did in blurring the line between professional journalists and common bloggers, which the newspaper industry brought upon itself, is really not very different than replacing an injured Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter with some guy from a beer-ball softball league, and saying it is going to work out fine.

    It became apparent that the mainstream print media was out of touch with the Internet age when they started handing their writers computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones while still making them sit in cubicle A to write an article, so they could email that story to an editor in cubicle B. The new technology puts the power in the palm of journalists to file a story from the other side of the globe just as quickly.  So, too, the print media erred by thinking it could replace the copy editor with Microsoft spell check.  Like the education system, the print media is guilty of homogenizing content out of fear, greed, or just plain blind ambition.  One of our greatest newspapers here in New York has decided that corporate and political bias is too important to ignore, and now instead of publishing news in the public trust, they have decided some news is too true to print.  In the scramble for the almighty advertising dollar, the entire media industry is guilty of accepting ads from companies who sell products you can’t even buy without a doctor’s prescription.

    In a country this vast, in a world so diverse, no news media company is going to appeal to everyone, and guess what?  That’s OK.  Five and a half years ago, we began publishing the Herald de Paris with the idea that altruism and bias-free reporting still had a place in today’s marketplace.  We approached reporting the news with one eye on the heyday of the broadsheet newspaper industry, and another eye firmly on what all this new technology could do to make our craft better.  We’ve had growing pains along the way, and we have learned from them.  Nevertheless, our goal has always remained the same – to report the news honestly, without bias, and deliver it to whomever wants to read it in a fast, portable, environmentally-friendly way.

    As technology offers us more and better opportunities to improve our what we do, we are evolving.  We have already made some changes, and in the coming weeks, we plan to make some more.  What won’t change is our commitment to bringing crisp, clean, literate print news to digital readers while offering an experience as close to the traditional broadsheet as possible.  Our pages are not filled with bright and flashing ads; we never make our readers click half a dozen times just to read one article; and we refuse to step too far to the left or the right regarding politics.  That’s not our job. Our job is to provide our readers with the information to make informed decisions for themselves.  The Herald de Paris reports the news.  Our readers are leaders, not blind followers.

    We have always been proud to bring you the news in two languages. Much as we have loved the soon departed International Herald Tribune, they never once catered to their home town, French speaking potential readers. I am happy to report that we are in discussions to enhance our French language coverage.

    How do we achieve all this?  We’ve climbed up on this level playing field and are going toe to toe with the other media industries.  If the TV and radio guys want to transcribe their stories into print, we’ll broadcast ours.  We will continue to make our news a available on every platform, and meet today’s readers on the devices they use.  We are using today’s rapidly-evolving technology to keep overhead low and creativity high, all while charging less for our daily newspaper than our predecessors charged 100 years ago.  Our readers are literate and educated.  Join us, and see what our digital broadsheet newspaper can offer you.


    JE Sved, Publisher
    Herald de Paris et Cie.

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