The Christian Science Monitor’s “Middle Road” To Greater Utility

Yesterday’s announcement that The Christian Science Monitor will end daily publication this spring in favor of online journalism and a new weekly publication is more a relief (and a joy) than a shock to many of its biggest fans.

I spent several years working with the church’s publications, including helping set online strategy for the Monitor. I’d like to offer a few observations why this makes sense as a first step – and how much further the Monitor could go to wrap its quality journalism with a forward looking business model and content strategy.

  • The Monitor is a bit like The Economist, if it were served in daily increments. Subscribers receive it by postal mail a day or two after its printing.  Making it a weekly makes tons of sense. In a world where USA Today can be on my doorstep every morning, a daily that arrives a day or two late stopped making sense long ago.
  • Its current audience is old. Print newspapers (especially world news) don’t play to the younger crowd. When you can get the full edition of the Monitor online for free, doesn’t it seem wasteful to print and mail it?
  • It’s loved by bloggers. As its print circulation fell, the Monitor was hailed as the most blogged newspaper (per subscriber) in the world. The Monitor is in a fantastic position to aggregate a global cadre of local journalists and writers, and use its good name and editorial grace to publish news and elevate “non-sensational” writers so their perspectives may be considered. (They haven’t proposed using bloggers as described here, but don’t you think they should?)
  • Church officials (not news staffers) have grumbled publicly about the Monitor‘s podcasting experiments. But multimedia is the future of online journalism. The church ran radio and television networks and has in-house production capabilities. Of any print news organization, it is best equipped to embrace the mulitmedia and interactivity resources needed to aggregate large audiences.

While there is simply no future in selling PDFs of newspapers—or worse, small-format printed papers delayed a day or two by mailing—there is a future online.

1. The future for newspapers is in multimedia. I was on a panel discussion a few months ago and someone said it out loud: “Reading is for suckers.” Okay, that’s harsh, but it makes the point that subscribers want to select the format of their media, and plain text or html is still just one media.

The day before yesterday, a media buying forecast by Jack Meyers opined:

“There is a future for print media. But the future is doubtful for large newspaper companies that are saddled with heavy costs and debt. If newspapers had focused on their business as “news” rather than “papers,” they would most likely have invested heavily in digital ventures beginning in the mid-1990s, and established themselves as the primary source for locally relevant content. But they didn’t and now, for the most part, they are just one of many competitors with little unique differentiation and a weak business model.”

2. The future is in harnessing networks of journalists as part of a unified brand. Do you want to know who’s already doing this? How about Philip Balboni (former President of NECN), Nicholas Negroponte (of MIT Media Lab fame) and Joan Konner (Dean Emerita of the Columbia Journalism School). They, and others, are getting ready for a 2009 launch to form a branded network, using top-drawer editors and a globally dispersed staff of local sources who have real ownership of the company.  Global News Enterprises is on my shortlist of companies to watch, and I hope it’s on your list now.

So, in my opinion, yesterday’s announcement was a good first step. There are other organizations that believe in the future of thoughtful journalism and are ready to adopt new business models and technologies. And it’s my hope that competition creates new, more engaging, viable and credible news sources. The Monitor‘s announcement is a promise of innovation ahead, and that’s good news.

Comments are closed.