Newsweek is the latest publication to announce that it’ll cease its 80-year old print edition at the end of the year. The editor-in-chief, Tina Brown, who had for a while denied rumours that the print edition was doomed as scaremongering, finally let the cat out of the bag confirming that Newsweek will be merged with its sister digital news the Daily Beast in a new digital-only publication to be called Newsweek Global. At the same time, she gave notice of staff losses as a result, both in the US and internationally, and blamed the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution.
In a way she could have been reading from the same script that many other senior executives have used to give up their print editions. John Yemma, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, blamed falling readership and print costs when he announced in April 2008 that the 100 years old newspaper will cease daily publication and shift to a weekly print format while pinning its future on its web site. Then came the job losses with only a fraction of the 130 staffers remaining.
Newsweek lost half of its readers which, in 2006, exceeded three millions. But there are doubts as to whether a digital-only subscription-based publication is the solution with some critics arguing that there is no demand for a digital Newsweek. Many of these doubters are engaged in an interesting debate about the true state of readership and traffic to really grasp how today’s audience is made up and how to access information.
Newspapers in the US still earn much more from print operations than digital, although it worries them that their core audience is aging but it does not mean that their audience is shrinking. It could be just the opposite.
There is a section of the business who made their mind that newspapers are increasingly irrelevant and are floundering while another is taking comfort in believing that although subscriptions are down, readership as measured by current traffic tools is up and up. And both sides put their own spin on the web figures used in this argument.
No one can say for certain who are the 110 million people who visit newspaper websites in the US. But one thing is certain. When studies like several current ones by the Pew Research Centre found that people surveyed said they used the “Internet,” “social media,” “mobile devices,” or digital media as a “source” for local news, they also found that most stories overwhelmingly still originate in legacy news organisations.
It is abundantly clear that newspapers continue to have influence that goes beyond their own brands, but they always did, and legacy news organisations still underpin the news-eco system.