For several years now, I’ve been regularly asked, “How’s the magazine business?” Given both the lingering economic downturn and the ongoing changes in the media world, it’s no surprise that people wonder. My honest response has been that we are “stable.” But these are crazy times for the media as a whole. With its constant stream of breaking news, the Internet has changed everything.
And no business has been affected more than newspapers. I still read the Journal Star every morning—it remains the region’s predominant source of journalism. And yet the impact of numerous rounds of cutbacks has been palpable. There are fewer journalists covering fewer areas, but doing more work. The rise of bloggers and “citizen journalism” helps to fill in the gaps, but it’s not enough.
“Journalism is necessary…People want and need to know stories, information and informed opinion,” says local journalist Bill Knight. “These are created by people who work in good faith to provide it all, but who need a business structure in which to work.” Unfortunately, that structure has been slowly crumbling, and an alternative model has yet to become clear, although there are many ideas as to what the “newsroom of the future” will look like.
As a monthly business magazine, the impact on us has been less dramatic. I don’t claim to be a journalist, and iBi is not expected to break the news each day. Rather, our role is to supplement the news with additional analysis, stories and commentary.
Way back in 1992, we interviewed John McConnell, then-president and publisher of the Journal Star. His thoughts then, several years before the meteoric rise of the Internet, are rather prescient.
“The evolving technology out there is also a challenge,” he said. “We have a certain market position here which has the potential of being eroded by advancing technology…We may be in a position somewhere down the road where you can have a television and printer in your home, hooked up by a modem to our computer; we will give you a menu and you can select those portions of the paper that you want…call them up and print them out at home.”
“We obviously are the dominant information provider in this market…Regardless of what happens to technology down the road, even if the method by which news is delivered changes, if we protect that information-gathering ability, we will still be in business.”
McConnell understood that the newspaper’s real value is not the paper on which it is printed, but that information-gathering ability. That remains the case today. These are transitional times for all media—radio and television included. The digital age has not negated the need for local news; if anything, it has intensified it. It’s just a matter of finding a model that works. And we wish the Journal Star and all of our media friends the best as we wrestle with the seismic forces rippling through the industry. iBi