Stopping the Presses
This is not another newspaper obituary. But, more than a hundred years since its first edition, The Christian Science Monitor will literally stop its daily presses this coming April. The Monitor, long recognized for its reliable journalism, will adopt a "Web-first strategy, supplemented by a large-format weekly print product," says John Yemma, editor-in-chief.
Calling The Monitor a pioneer, Yemma expects the transition to stimulate aggressive growth in online readership and doesn't anticipate major layoffs. Newsrooms have shed about 10 percent of their workforce in the past decade, according a report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Among others, The New York Times, USA Today and The San Francisco Chronicle trimmed down in '08. The Monitor saw circulation drop nearly 20 percent.
The paper takes a big, necessary risk here. "It's not enough to be morose and nostalgic about the great days of newspapers in the '80s, when money was flowing like a river," says Yemma. "That business model is gone. Craigslist, cars.com, monster.com killed it. Readers have voted, and they've gone online."
Yemma sees the Internet not merely as a disruptive competitor to serious news - the death knell to journalism and democracy as we know it - but as an opportunity. "We're taking a respected 100-year-old brand with a commitment to international news, finance and human values, and modernizing it. We've all got to create a sustainable financial model. So we keep the newsroom as watchdogs, our reporters on the street, and our international bureaus. The Internet gives us a relatively low cost infrastructure, so that frees up resources for international news-gathering."
The Web-first model implies challenges that marketers and advertisers are well-aware of: reader retention, unique visitors, page views. "Look, I don't want to be Pollyannaish about this," Yemma says. Change is wrenching, but I'm very optimistic. We're a bit smaller, nimble, so we'll be able to make this a smooth transition. I think people can look to us for lessons as they move in this direction, too."
The csmonitor.com features include audio clips with each article, and innovative components such as the award-winning "Little Bill Clinton," a multimedia blog covering the life of a Congolese immigrant attending an Atlanta charter school. Yemma believes meaningful, engaging content like this will open up new revenue streams.
The Monitor is also launching a subscription-based weekend edition, a large-format (similar to Rolling Stone) hybrid between a weekly newsmagazine and a newspaper. "Falling or not, Sunday newspapers are still the big moneymakers. This will be an alternative to the Economist, Time and Newsweek.
"It's an oversimplification to say we're stopping the daily," Yemma says. "The fact is, we're going more daily than ever."