Newspapers Struggle To Survive and YouTube

14 02 2008

Reuters reports that the Los Angeles Times today named Russ Stanton as its new editor. The interesting thing about this is that Stanton is presently the paper’s digital news chief.

What is even more interesting are the candidates who Stanton beat out for the job — Jim Newton, the Times editorial page editor, and Managing Editor John Arthur.

Stanton, who grew up in California, has served as the Times’ innovation editor, overseeing its digital news service, since February 2007. He joined the paper in 1997 and has also been its business editor.

In the olden days of, say, three years ago, it would have been natural to hire either of those other two people. When they didn’t come from the the family of previous editors and publishers, newspaper editors came from the ranks of the hard news gatherers and opinion makers. And the editorial pages and managing editors used to fit the bill quite nicely.

In the new days of, say, last week, everyone on the publisher side of print publishing is trying to figure out a way to make money when people are leaving general circulation newspapers and magazines in droves. And, with that exit, goes the advertisers. Newspapers are also being hampered by the emergence of eBay and Craig’s List, as viable alternatives to their previously lucrative classified ads sections.

In short, the Internet was stealing everything from them that television hadn’t already made off with. It is debatable whether they were doing a better job than newspapers did, but that didn’t seem to matter.

So, in a fit of “if you can’t beat ’em, join’em” newspapers have been designing better web sites and looking towards UGC (User Generated Content — think YouTube but on the site of your local newspaper) as a means of sucking people in. Last year I gave a presentation to a number of editors at the Philadelphia Inquirer in which we ended up talking about exactly that — in a world in which newspapers can’t afford local beat reporters, how can you get local news reported on by the newspaper. Blogs, UGC, Wikis, social networking sites — all of this came up for discussion.

And now, the Los Angeles Times, which has been around since 1881 and might be considered venerable by some, has broken with their tradition and acknowledged that someone from the digital news side of their business might actually have something to say about presenting news to people.

It’s a welcome break from venerable tradition.


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