editor on the verge

Online musings from the newsroom and beyond . . . by Yoni Greenbaum

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How the newspaper industry squandered the writer’s strike

February 11th, 2008 · 3 Comments

I wonder if, during the height of the writer’s strike, newspapers missed out on an opportunity to reintroduce their printed products and/or websites to readers looking for alternatives to reruns and Reality TV? It just seems to me that, as more people were turning to their computers and/or picking up books, newspapers could have used the time to say, in effect, “Hey, remember us? We’re still here and look what we have for you!

But instead, the big beneficiary of the strike has been online video sites. In December 2007, according to comScore:

  • 77.6 million viewers watched 3.2 billion videos on YouTube.com (41.6 videos per viewer).
  • 40.5 million viewers watched 334 million videos on MySpace.com (8.2 videos per viewer).
  • The average online video viewer consumed 72 videos.

“With the writer’s strike keeping new TV episodes from reaching the airwaves, viewers have been seeking alternatives for fresh content,” said comScore executive Erin Hunter, “It appears that online video is stepping in to help fill that void.”

Sound to me like that was an opportunity for newspapers, no?

Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that the approximately three-month-long strike by the members of the Writer’s Guild of America could have resulted in enough gains to heal all that ails the newspaper industry. But given the dire straits that many newspapers now find themselves, can they afford to pass on developing any new audience, be it online or in-print?

Can they?

Even for those newspapers who don’t produce video, the strike offered opportunities. For example, I came across this comment on the New York Times website:

“A funny thing happened while the writers were on strike. I started reading more. You all remember books, don’t you? I’m currently working on two books and have a nice list.”

And while that is anecdotal, the Omaha World-Herald reported:

The total number of books sold from Dec. 31, 2007, through Feb. 3, 2008, increased by 5 million, or 7 percent, compared with the same period the previous year, according to Nielsen BookScan.

Strong book sales are even more noteworthy because many retailers report that recession fears have dampened consumer spending.

“People are rediscovering how joyous it is to read,” said Pat Schroeder president of the Association of American Publishers.

Here was an opportunity to showcase what we as an industry naturally do so well. To show off our writing and visual talents, to share our knowledge and remind readers of our continued value. So what did we do? Well, as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing. We simply squandered an opportunity.

Perhaps, we were so caught up in in our own turmoil that we were unable to recognize the opportunity at hand. Or perhaps we just don’t have the fire to fight anymore and have resigned ourselves to our own collapse. While I certainly hope it’s not the latter, our performance doesn’t leave me feeling to confident.

No matter which rationale you choose to go with, I think we’ve reached that moment where as an industry we can’t afford to squander any opportunity no matter how small. Hopefully the next time one comes along, we’ll do a better job embracing it.

Tags: Audience Development · Industry · MySpace · Online · Traffic · Video · YouTube

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ジェイソン (Jason) // Feb 11, 2008 at 9:10 am

    The larger newspapers have typically been too slow to pounce on opportunities. They were too slow with the changing reader-base back in the 80’s, and they failed to capitalize on the internet with it’s many technologies until too late.

    Much like most governments, the leadership is too out of touch with reality to look around and see which way people are actually going.

    It’s a shame, too. I used to enjoy reading the paper every day 😕

  • 2 Mark Dykeman // Feb 11, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I find myself wondering if newspapers should give up the business of printing “news” paper and instead focus on being research bureaus that sell valuable information. Like Forrester or Gartner, although not necessarily the same. Although the “research bureaus” would have to add analysis into the mix.

    You guys are caught somewhere between being a public service and a big business while getting the worst of both worlds. It’s like being a researcher: it can be intellectually stimulating and rewarding, but it doesn’t pay for your children’s afterschool activities or orthodontics.

  • 3 WGA strike over, journalism took a hit « Journo Jared // Feb 11, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    […] as journalism blogger Yoni Greenbaum discussed earlier today — the media itself took a hard hit during the three month […]

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