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THE YEAR IN NEWSPAPERS: top trends of 2009

THE YEAR IN NEWSPAPERS: top trends of 2009

2009 might well be remembered as a year of cutbacks and closures, but also a year when newspapers started to fight back, make changes and began to reassess unsatisfactory aspects of their business models. The world of journalism has indeed suffered some sad losses but there has also been much innovative thinking and progress in the way that news is gathered, reported and presented. Here are a few of the top trends that the Editors Weblog has noted this year.

Cuts, cuts, cuts: what are the consequences?

Some US cities have been left with just one daily newspaper, and speculation over which could be the first no-paper town was answered in July when the Ann Arbor News stopped printing. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer cut most of its staff and went online only, Denver lost the Rocky Mountain News. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle and Boston Globe have struggled through threats of closure.

And even those whose survival is assured have been cutting staff - the New York Times just lost 100 newsroom staff - or closing bureaux - the Washington Post now has no domestic bureaux outside the capital. Others have cut down on international reporting. Newspapers have got thinner, some losing sections or even cutting printing days.

News agencies have also been feeling the effect of the cuts as papers look at how to make savings. The Associated Press has seen 180 papers threaten to cancel their subscriptions, though many of these have since decided not to. The Chicago Tribune, for example, trialled reporting without the AP for a week. Over in France, government-subsidised Agence France-Presse has also seen papers drop its service.

Overall, the cutbacks in Europe do not seem as drastic as in the US, though that is not to say that papers have been immune: even the Guardian is attempting to make significant staff cuts.

Can newspapers continue to perform their democratic role in society? Fewer journalists means fewer stories covered, fewer copy/sub editors means a greater chance of mistakes.

Start-ups can help to fill the gaps in reporting, but without proper funding they too will languish. It is essential that outlets must focus on efficiencies and how to make the best of their resources, and endeavour not to sacrifice quality.

To charge or not to charge (online)?

As newspapers' advertising-based business model started to let them down, one of the biggest questions of the year has been whether or not newspapers should start charging for their online content. So far, there has been a lot of talk but not much action. Walter Isaacson brought the micropayments question onto the agenda in February, sparking immediate controversy. The debate started to heat up in April when Journalism Online was founded by three industry experts with an iTunes-inspired mission to facilitate charging for online content: it proposed to offer bundled packages of content from multiple publications. This was swiftly

followed by Murdoch's promise in early May that all News Corp papers would be charging online within the year. MediaNews Group followed suit. The New York Times also seems committed but is wavering with regards to how. The Newspaper Association of America's call for payment models elicited a considerable response.

Meanwhile, some smaller papers such as the Schenectady Daily Gazette and the Texas Valley Morning Star have quietly integrated paywalls: are there lessons to be learnt there?

Murdoch, undoubtedly one of paid online content's most vocal supporters, is insistent that news is a valuable product and should not just be given away. This might seem hard to argue with, but some publishers are resolute that charging online is not the answer to solving financial difficulties, and remain committed to high traffic and other schemes such as highly targeted advertising to sustain cash flow. The Guardian, for example, is one of these. A multitude of surveys carried out have suggested that, unsurprisingly, charging online will not be too popular among consumers.

A couple of news outlets have adopted a less direct paywall: for example, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has introduced a membership club that offers new additional content and special events to its committed readers. This seems like a possible option for publishers who fear sacrificing their ad revenue but want to experiment with paid online content.

Will Murdoch fulfil his promises? Could charging online be the norm by the end of 2010? And what has happened to Journalism Online: will 'bundled' charging be an option?

The TWITTER explosion

By now, the idea of a journalist not using Twitter is verging on inconceivable. After CNN and Ashton Kutcher first crossed the one million followers mark in April in a highly-publicised battle, multi-million follower accounts are now not uncommon.

Its advantages are multiple: finding news, advertising stories, curating your community of readers. Twitter's limitations, however, are that its information can be hard to verify. These uses and limitations became particularly clear during the aftermath of the Iranian election in June, when many journalists were prevented from reporting and news was increasingly spread by social networks and citizen journalists.

Twitter has had a significant impact on the trend towards up-to-the-minute, real time news. It changed its homepage in July to place more of a focus on search and its potential as a way to discover what people are talking about right now. Google recently announced that it was to integrate real-time social network updates into its search results.

Will it last? Following much debate over how it would actually bring in money, it was just announced that Twitter has indeed become profitable, so one can assume that for now, at least, it is here to stay. Its advantages for journalists are more clear-cut than those of Facebook, but Facebook is used regularly by a wider range of people. With increasing use of Facebook Connect, might this become more prominent in 2010?

HYPERLOCAL: just hype or the future for news?

The ubiquity of free online news has, quite understandably, led news outlets to contemplate what they can offer that is unique, and going very very local has appealed to many, particularly as regional papers have been suffering particularly badly and hyperlocal news has potential to offer highly-targeted local advertising.

Mainstream news outlets have been seeing the benefits of local news: US hyperlocal aggregator Outside.in has seen considerable investment from CNN, and Everyblock, originally created with a grant from the Knight Foundation, was bought by MSNBC. The New York Times introduced a blog called The Local, in an area already overwhelmed by a variety of hyperlocal offerings such as Patch and Maplewood Online. Community websites have also been springing up in the UK.

But, as recently questioned by Benji Lanyado, is hyperlocal actually making money? Has the right business model been found?

One noteworthy initiative is the Futuroom/Nase adresa project launched by PPF Media in the Czech Republic (disclosure: the World Editors Forum has been involved in the project in the role of consultant) which has taken news reporting directly into the community and constructed an unusual alternative revenue stream. 'News cafes,' which place the newsroom in a cafe in the centre of town, are at the centre of PPF's strategy: these both provide income (enough to cover overheads) and offer the public direct access to journalists, allowing the newsroom to become a real part of the community. Led from the Futuroom base in Prague, Nasa adresa weeklies and websites are produced, and it seems as if the papers are selling.

It is too early to say whether the project, launched in June, represents a solution that could be used more widely, but looks it promising. Hyperlocal undoubtedly has potential, but an innovative business model needs to be found.

i for innovation

One of 2009's success stories has been new Portuguese daily i. As newspapers around the world suffer from financial difficulties, launching a new publication could seem like madness. But, so far at least, i has proved any sceptics wrong. The impressively-designed magazine-style newspaper focused on politics and economics has been selling, and has managed to capture a new hard-to-reach audience.

The paper has willingly abandoned traditional topic sections to allow more freedom of coverage, and focuses on opinion and daily in-depth analysis on key issues, taking into account the fact that its readers are likely to already be well-informed via other platforms.

New ideas and experimentation are encouraged, and enthusiasm is high. And, the paper does not put all its print content online: the website aims to be kind of a social news portal rather than a digital reproduction of the news in the paper.

As a new paper, it has been easier for i to break the mould, but are there useful lessons that established newspapers could learn from what i is doing differently?

Does a nonprofit business model have a significant place in the media landscape?

Whether or not going nonprofit is an option for newspapers is a question that has been discussed at length by media commentators and even by the US Senate. The main advantage: protection from market forces, the main disadvantage: no freedom to endorse political candidates. And, of course, there is the challenge of finding a rich enough donor.

The idea that an entire newspaper could be funded by a foundation seems unlikely, but investigative public interest journalism has been relatively successful at attracting nonprofit support.

Several funds and start-ups aiming to produce high quality investigative journalism have sprung up, following in the footsteps of the likes of ProPublica and the VoiceOfSanDiego. Locally targeted nonprofits are becoming almost abundant in the US: over the past 3 months the Bay Area News Project began (in September), Oakland Local was founded in October, the Texas Tribune launched in November, as did the Chicago News Cooperative and California Watch appeared earlier this month.

All these launches are good news for news in these areas, but are they sustainable? It has been argued that the nonprofit concept is merely propping up a flawed business model and limiting potential innovation. Time will tell which are successful.

Is there money in mobile?

Smart phones are becoming more and more common and could start to become the norm in 2010. Many news applications that enable a better reading experience have been built for Apple's iPhone, and some for Google's Android operating system - those created by the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Associated Press seem to be generally considered to be among the best. The Guardian's paid for app sold more than 9000 in its first two days.

But can they actually be a significant stream of revenue?

Many are free, and those like the Guardian's which have a one-off download fee (something consumers are likely to be willing to pay for?) might be able to recoup the costs of development with this income, but it does not constitute regular revenue. Advertising is limited so far - there is not much space on the small screen, for a start. Briefly covering the whole screen seems to be the preferred method of some papers on the iPhone: Le Monde's app opens with a full-page ad, for example.

It is possible to make content available via subscription. The Financial Times iPhone app only allows full access to online subscribers, and the Wall Street Journal has implemented a specific application subscription charge: $1.50 per week.

Will more do this? Can consumers be persuaded to pay on their phones for what they can get free online?

E-readers: not all they promised, but could that change in 2010?

The Kindle, though widely adopted by many newspapers, might not quite have lived up to expectations. Publishers only receive about 30% of what subscribers pay, and besides, e-readers are still prohibitively expensive for many and far from being a "must-have" product. Kindle users are generally older.

But could this be about to change? New products such as the Nook and the improved Sony range are entering the market and the Plastic Logic e-reader Que is to be released in early January. A group of publishers have also come together with plans to develop their own e-reader. Could this competition improve e-reader offerings? Already, Sony is apparently offering a better revenue share than Amazon does, and presumably, giving publishers and consumers a choice will make pricing competitive.

Or might e-readers lose out to tablet computers? The Apple tablet is expected early next year - with more functionality, could it and similar products appeal more to the younger generation?

Google: friend or foe?

Conflict over copyright reached new heights this year. Attacks on Google and other 'copyright thieves' who have built a business model off newspaper content have come from many corners: with News Corp leading the fight in the US but Spanish and German publishers too. Google consistently responds that it is fact a friend to publishers, citing the 1 billion clicks that it sends to news websites each month via Google News, and pointing out that publishers can easily opt-out of Google's indexing. Publishers retort that Google's current quasi-monopoly on search would make that difficult.

But could a rapprochement be on the cards for 2010? Google has been making conciliatory moves - it has updated its 'First Click Free' program to allow publishers more control over how much of their site is accessible free, it launched its first project that shares revenue with publishers, Fast Flip, and created new ways to view news, such as Living Stories, which might offer advertising potential if developed further.

At the WAN-IFRA World Newspaper Congress in Hyderabad earlier this month, INM's Gavin O'Reilly and Google's David Drummond were far from reaching an agreement but did agree that they would continue meeting in the future to try and solve the issue. Will publishers and Google find a compromise? Or might Microsoft and Bing step into the fray and change everything?


One of the consequences of extreme financial difficulties has been unexpected cooperation between former rivals: it has become harder and less desirable to stand entirely alone. A few examples:

Between rivals: content sharing has become more widespread. For instance, the Ohio News Organisation, a collection of seven newspapers who began sharing content last year in an attempt to substitute Associated Press coverage, produced a collaborative story in November.

Between old and new media: even one of the US's most prestigious newspapers has accepted the need to collaborate with new media projects. In August, the New York Times partnered with nonprofit investigative journalism outlet Propublica to publish a 13,000 word article on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that took two years and an estimated $400,000 to produce. The paper also published a story on the Great Pacific Garbage patch that was funded by crowd-funded journalism initiative Spot.Us. These were both stories that the paper would have been unlikely to publish otherwise

Between different platforms: at many papers, print and web are competing no longer, but are part of the one team. The Washington Post is the latest major paper to undergo integration.

For a list of top publishing strategies for 2010 please see our sister publication www.sfnblog.com



Emma Goodman


2009-12-22 16:24

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

© 2015 WAN-IFRA - World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

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