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June 13, 2014, 10 a.m.

This Week in Review: Time Inc. tries to survive on its own, and the global shift to mobile news

Plus: The Orange County Register’s decline, Vox and explainers, and the rest of the week’s news and commentary on journalism and the web.

This week’s essential reads: The most important pieces to read this week are the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s online news consumption studyKen Doctor on Time Inc.’s strategy, and The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal on method journalism.

time-magazine-1923-first-coverMagazine survival on the web: Time Inc. completed its split from its parent company, Time Warner, at the end of last week, and the occasion was generally an ominous one for the U.S.’ largest magazine publisher. While Time Warner’s stock rose after the move, Time Inc.’s dropped 4.6 percent in its first morning trading as a standalone magazine company.

With no lucrative media properties elsewhere in the company to prop it up, Time Inc. faces an uphill journey to financial viability, to say the least. An Agence France Presse article laid out the basic case for pessimism about Time Inc. — and the vote of no confidence that its split means for the magazine industry as a whole. But Bloomberg’s Edmund Lee noted some reasons for optimism: Time Inc. will be able to reinvest its profits rather than sending them up to Time Warner, and several other print-based media companies, like the recently spun-off News Corp., have been up recently.

The New York Times’ David Carr and Ravi Somaiya gave some more details on the difficulties of Time Inc.’s situation, the circumstances that led to the merger, and reported that the company is expected to cut 25 percent of editorial costs in the next few months. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson outlined the advertising conundrum in which Time Inc. and other legacy publishers find themselves: Advertising attention and revenue is plummeting in print, but the attention online and in mobile is too scattershot and fleeting to bring in big money right now. “My bet is that small, niche, and premium digital journalism survives with high CPMs and light costs, while big, broad, and everything-for-everyone journalism struggles with low CPMs and heavy ambitions,” Thompson concluded.

So Time Inc. needs to go beyond magazines and move into fresh, robust digital offerings. But, of course, Time already knows this — the question is how. The Lab’s Ken Doctor offered several suggestions: Move deeper into less competitive niches, go from reading to doing, go mobile-friendly and visual, and target TV and web video for disruption. Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram echoed some of those ideas, urging Time Inc. to undertake a complete rethink of its culture, platforms, and business model.


Mobile news consumption around the worldOxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism released its annual study on digital news consumption around the world, with findings that centered on the continued shift toward consuming news on smartphones, through quick, small-scale news “snacking.” In his summary of the report, The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade noted that mainstream news media in some countries are doing much better than others in retaining market share in this environment, and that the market is being more deeply segmented through the generational divide in the use of smartphones.

The BBC emphasized the good news for traditional news organizations, pointing out that they remain the dominant news sources in the UK, while also stating that “There’s a new class of press baron, Facebook Superfriends or Twitterati, who are increasingly playing a role in driving the news agenda.”

The Lab’s Joseph Lichterman looked more closely at the study’s data on mobile news consumption, highlighting the findings that people use fewer news sources on mobile and prefer text to video overall, though very few of them pay for news in any form. (Also at the Lab, Joshua Benton wrote about the challenges in engaging the growing number of mobile news users, and the American Press Institute’s Jeff Sonderman wrote about some best practices for gaining new mobile revenue from news.)

And British journalism professor Richard Sambrook examined the study’s finding that most users said they trust organizations with traditional, objectivity-based reporters more than ones that practice alternative forms. “Audiences appear more attached to the traditional norms of balanced and impartial news than some might suppose,” he said. “The question going forward is how well that sits among the growing range of digital services seeking to establish themselves by adopting a point of view to maximise impact.”


Sorting through the Register’s decline: After the Orange County Register announced widespread cuts and buyouts last week, dozens of staffers have been lining up for the buyouts, with the rest bracing for layoffs when the round of buyouts ends. The cuts are expected to wipe out all of staff positions the Register added in its daring print expansion over the past two years, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The paper’s owner, Aaron Kushner of Freedom Communications, was resolute in his insistence to Register staff that the paper was not dying; OC Weekly has more details from Kushner’s Q&A with staff, as well as a quote from an anonymous Register staffer saying that “He’s lost the newsroom. No one has any faith in him at all. People want to get the hell out while they can.”

The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum looked at the minimal margin for error built into the Register’s financial plans and said the flaws in the its strategy are becoming apparent: Even if revenue is up, it’s not enough to support the massive investment in staff and geographical expansion, and the Register has neglected the digital side of its operation. “The bet on better journalism was always the key to success, not the emphasis on print itself,” he wrote.

Reading roundup: A few other stories to keep an eye on this week:

— A few notes on Vox and explanatory journalism: Vox executive Michael Lovitt talked about how the site was built and launched in just nine weeks, and the Lab’s Joshua Benton marveled at how quickly they did it. Vox’s Melissa Bell explained why the site is still using a homepage, despite the homepage’s widely discussed decline. The Economist looked at why explanatory sites are becoming more popular, and the Columbia Journalism Review’s Corey Hutchins called for more Vox-style explaining in local news.

— The Center for Public Interest Journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia shut down its nonprofit news site AxisPhilly late last week, but will launch a new news venture called run by Washington Post, TBD, and Digital First veteran Jim Brady. Here’s the article on the move from Technically Philly, and announcements from AxisPhilly and Temple.

— BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti gave a mammoth, 22,000-word interview to Fusion’s Felix Salmon, and fortunately, the Lab’s Caroline O’Donovan and Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram rounded up the most interesting pieces of it for you.

— Finally, The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal wrote about the spate of new sites that are devoted to a particular method, rather than a topic or subject area. “It seems absurd to say that we need some more publications that are about something,” Madrigal concluded. “But that’s where we’re at.”

Subway photo by Hans G. Bäckman used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     June 13, 2014, 10 a.m.
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