Friday, March 6, 2009

22 is a lonely number

Really, it's all about the money.

As word comes down that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer may be the first major American daily to go online only, Ken Doctor of Content Bridges does the math, confirming what we all suspected, that based on revenues, digital news sites can only support very small news staffs.

Where will the reporting (pardon: content) come from? Bloggers? Citizen J's? Some TBD hybrid? And how much time will all the digital extras (video, sound slides, tweets, fast-break updates) suck from out-of-the-building reporting by that skeleton crew?

From Doctor's blog:

Now 22 is an interesting number. Let's do the math. The PI starts with 170 newsroom staffers. Online-only, it moves to 22, which would be 12.9% of its print staff. That's a number worth remembering.

As the Christian Science Monitor, the Capital Times, the East Valley Times and the Detroit papers, among others, all engaging in one form or another of flipping the switch (going from print to digital) or dayscrapping (reducing the days of print publication or delivery), I've often gotten this question from the press: "Why don't papers just go online-only?" We talk about the economics of print vs. online vs. hybrid, and I've guesstimated that if metro dailies indeed flipped the switch, they'd be able to "afford" about 15% of their newsroom staffs. So that 12.9% number confirms my guess. With metros taking in 10%-plus of their revenues from digital advertising now, that's about all the current business will support.

It's a sobering number.

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