More than any high-level statistics about the print news business, the following quote, from the bottom of an article ("What's Next for Newsmagazines") on the front page of the 'B' (Marketplace) section of today's Wall Street Journal made me sit up and take notice [emphasis added]:
At a recent speech at Columbia University, [Newsweek Editor Jon] Meacham delivered a blistering response after he asked who reads Newsweek and none of the 100-odd students in attendance raised their hands.
He can 'blister' all he wants, but I don't know of any industry in which that's proven effective as a means to enticing potential customers into buying your product. The blow-by-blow of that speech from early February is even more pitiful [emphasis added]:
After about an hour, there seemed to be no more questions for him, so Newsweek editor Jon Meacham turned to his audience—about 100 graduate students at Columbia journalism school—and said he had a question for them: Did anyone in the room read Newsweek or Time? There was a small, awkward rumbling before finally, a man shouted, "No!" ...
"Have you looked at Newsweek?" [asked Meacham]
"Sure," said the J-schooler.
"And it's not up to your standards?"
"I find [it] less useful honestly. The news? I don't get it from Newsweek..."
"Look, I need you," said Mr. Meacham... "It's an incredible frustration that I've got some of the most decent, hard-working, honest, passionate, straight-shooting, non-ideological people who just want to tell the damn truth, and how to get this past this image that we're just middlebrow, you know, a magazine that your grandparents get, or something..."
Unless I'm missing something (and there's not a whole lot more to the interaction than what I just posted) Meacham's entire argument for why people ought to read traditional news magazines rests on three things:
- He's got 'good' people. That may be true in terms of writing skill, interpersonal integrity, reportorial drive, courage in the field and the like, but here's the bottom line: what 'good' means without reference to customers and their needs is anybody's guess. His assertion that those people are 'non-ideological' is a tip-off that he just doesn't get the blogosphere or Gen-Y, much less how mainstream media has evolved since the '70s.
- He's frustrated. (He'd do better to have been paranoid, as Andy Grove was at Intel).
- His business is tanking; he needs more customers. (The big three Detroit automakers circa 1980 come to mind here.)
Short take: it's an insular, supply-side argument for relevance that only a very few, slow-moving institutions (like higher education) can get away with, and even there, not for as long as they used to.