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Home > Publications > Quill > From the President



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Thursday, December 6, 2012
From the President

Newsweeks reminds us: Change is constant

By Sonny Albarado

The end of a printed Newsweek does not herald the imminent end of print journalism.

That seems obvious to me, but you’d never guess that from all the handwringing in mid-October when the magazine’s editor, Tina Brown, announced that Newsweek would cease publication at the end of 2012 and become digital-only as Newsweek Global.

This news followed on the heels of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune going to a three-day-a-week print schedule in September. The Times-Picayune wasn’t the only Advance Publications outlet that stopped printing a daily edition this year, but it served the largest city of any of the Newhouse papers.

Newsweek’s move wasn’t a surprise — sad, especially for the journalists and staff who will be out of jobs, but wholly inevitable. I’m surprised it took so long. It stopped being interesting a long time ago.

The magazine had been in decline for a while, trying to find a content mix that would attract a larger audience — and more ad revenue — and committing journalistic faux pas along the way.

Its circulation of about 1.5 million is about half what it was just five years ago. (Of course similar comparisons could be made about a lot of print media.)

But remember that about two years ago, The Washington Post Co. sold the magazine for $1, with debt estimated between $40 million and $70 million, to stereo tycoon Sidney Harman, who died shortly thereafter.

Since then, Newsweek merged with Brown’s online The Daily Beast, and owner Barry Diller said in a July quarterly earnings call that the magazine would transition to digital by next year.

Some commentators said the speeding shift of journalism to the digital world killed Newsweek.

Well, yes and no.

Print remains important, even essential, in large swaths of the country. Check out the National Newspaper Association’s data on community newspapers. Many small-town dailies and weeklies (and even mid-sized metros like the one I work for) are doing well financially.

Digital is the future, but many publishers I know are nowhere near ready to give up on print. It remains too vital to their bottom lines and likely will remain so into the foreseeable future.

On top of that is the fact that in many places — New Orleans included — the bulk of the readership and potential readership remains un-wired. (I live 20 miles from the center of Arkansas’ largest city in its most populous county and I can’t get AT&T’s Uverse or Comcast’s high-speed Internet service. And until recently, only one satellite provider of high-speed service was available where I live.)

But what’s happening to drive Newsweek and the Times- Picayune to digital publication, and likely will drive many other magazines and newspapers in the same direction, has to do with the business that supports the journalism.

What’s happening isn’t about the digital barbarians storming the bastions of print; that’s an issue that should have been buried years ago.

And any discussion of the accelerated move from print to digital should center on what’s gained or lost journalistically, not become a lament about disappearing print.

Because it’s not about the journalism, except in a pecuniary sense.

That’s why I remain bullish about journalism’s future, why I envy those just entering the field or who are not so far along in their careers.

While it’s true that the ranks of trained, professional journalists at so-called legacy media are thinner than they were six years ago, journalists are finding work. They are putting their skills and talents to use and learning new skills in new ventures.

Even in traditional media, journalists are adapting the new tools at their disposal to help themselves and their employers adjust to the new information marketplace.

Yes, the journalist’s tools and job description have changed. But the journalist’s role hasn’t changed.

And I’m proud that SPJ is changing with journalism. On the technology front, SPJ has embraced social media to get its message out and to communicate with members.

Today, tweeting is a key method of communication from SPJ staff and among SPJ members. And, according to a report from Brandon Ballenger of the South Florida Pro Chapter, SPJ has more followers on Twitter than any other major journalism organization.

At my request, Brandon is leading an ad-hoc “skunkworks” group that is developing digital media ideas for the Society.

SPJ reflects today’s journalism profession and will be even more reflective in the future.

Still, SPJ needs your help to take the giant leaps it must make to remain relevant to journalists everywhere while continuing to focus on the core values that set professional journalism apart from the noise.

Both journalism and SPJ are engaged in a great experiment while defending our core values.

It’s an invigorating and wonderful time to be a professional journalist.

Sonny Albarado is the 2012-13 SPJ president. Email him at salbarado@spj.org.

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