Last year, a columnist for MediaPost asked which major newspaper would be the first to turn its back on print and try to create a future as an online-only publication, and now he has his answer: the Christian Science Monitor, a 100-year-old newspaper that has won seven Pulitzer Prizes for journalism, said today that it will no longer publish a daily print edition. The paper, which is financed by the Church of Christ Scientist but has won widespread acclaim for its reporting and commentary, is launching a weekly magazine but otherwise the print side will be shut down.
I confess that despite having spent the past couple of years watching U.S. newspapers caught in a death spiral, cutting costs and laying off staff only to see their advertising revenue continue to sink, the closure of the CS Monitor’s print edition came as a shock. It’s one thing to talk about what newspapers have to do to survive, how online is the future and so on, but it’s another thing to see a 100-year-old paper leap off a cliff like that.
Said editor John Yemma:
“Like much of the news industry, the Monitor has embraced online reporting and is now one of the first publications to treat its Web site as its primary publishing format … Online journalism is more timely and is rapidly expanding its reach, especially among younger readers. There’s still a role for print, but one that is geared to weekends, when people still can find time to catch up, look behind the headlines, and experience the pleasures of print.”
Will the Monitor thrive online, based on lower costs and the quality of its content? Or will cutting the print edition and moving to a magazine change the economics of the company enough to make a difference? There was some mention of layoffs, but it’s not clear how much of the staff will be shown the door. And as more than one person has pointed out, simply cutting costs by axing the print side isn’t going to produce a runaway success, since most of the revenue at a newspaper comes from print (although the Monitor, a non-profit entity, gets a substantial portion from subscriptions).
I’m glad to see the newspaper pitch this move as a positive thing, rather than a panicked reaction to the decline of an industry. Some might see that as spin, but I think there is the potential for an online-only publication to build a sustainable business based around quality content. Whether the Monitor is the one that will make that leap remains to be seen.
Pat Thornton of Journalism Iconoclast thinks the Monitor model is a good one, and Marc Andreessen of Ning tells Portfolio magazine that he thinks the New York Times and other newspapers should do the same thing and “play offense,” but Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg doesn’t think it’s quite that simple.
Pat Thornton did an interview with John Yemma, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, about the paper’s decision to go Web-only and what that means.