Wednesday, March 31, 2010

web-first at the christian science monitor: one year later

Check out this Mediabistro Q-and A with John Yemma, the editor of the Christian Science Monitor. He talks about what it means to go web-first, and how digital journalism can make print editions viable:

The Monitor's decision to go online-only last year was seen by many as a major step in the evolution of newspapers. What was the genesis of that decision?
For about two years before they hired me, [the paper] had been involved in a fairly deep-dive [analysis] into the future of print. They looked at their financials, they looked at the future of print, they did prototyping of a weekly in two different forms -- a slick weekly and a tabloid weekly -- and they'd already made a lot of progress along the lines of moving from daily print to weekly print. It seemed like where they weren't making much progress, and where they were still caught in the old paradigm was "What do we do with print? How do we make it most effective?" -- when what we really needed to do was go Web-first. Print should be there, but it shouldn't be the lead dog on the dogsled.

Even though print still makes the bulk of the money?
In fact, that's true of the moment. And it's certainly true with most newspapers. But it's clear that the future is digital. That doesn't mean that you won't have print. It just means that you either lower the frequency of print -- which is what we did -- or you do what the Globe and the Houston Chronicle and others have done, which is to decrease your print footprint... down into your core readership areas, so that your supply chain and distribution chain is much cheaper. And then you raise your subscription rates -- which all of the big companies have done. So that's an attempt to keep print viable.


How has your revenue model worked since the move away from daily print, and how has that affected your workflow generally?
Our revenue streams now are print circulation, print advertising, syndication sales and Web ad revenue. We have a daily subscription email with about 2,000 subscribers at $84 a year, that has an abridged version of the daily news stories. I think we've got the mix right for us.

It works because we've been able to unharness the manpower that used to be devoted to daily print, and free them to work on Web-first content. That's been the big revelation. When you have print on a daily basis, then everything funnels into those print deadlines. Everything backs up from that, and everything that you're doing is oriented toward that one deadline, so you're not really optimizing your posts for the Web, you're not thinking about trending stories, you're not thinking about when the best time to post something is, and you're not living Web-first. And that's what we've done in the past year. We've taken a culture that had been a traditional news culture, and we've transitioned them to a Web-first one where they understand the rhythms of the Web better. That's probably been a big factor in contributing to our increase in Web traffic.

1 comment:

Colleen said...

I think it's great how flexible and forward-looking CSM is being by switching to a "web first" mindset. Being an innovator is risky, but in this case, the Monitor is leading the pack and will probably be more successful because of it. As long as printed news doesn't completely disappear, their successful switch probably gave the green light to other news media corporations considering the transformation, and I'm all for it! Great interview!