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Steffens: Four big obstacles confront print journalism

February 27, 2012

Photo by Kelly Moffitt

By Tara Kulash
Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Brian Steffens said the biggest obstacles for print journalism have become smart phones, electronic tablets, social media, bundling and pricing.

As the communications director at Reynolds Journalism Institute, Steffens spoke at the Mid-America Press Institute gathering in St. Louis Feb. 11 about the state of the news industry, where it might be going and how it might get there.

He said media is progressively moving toward blogs and mobile applications, which has in turn increased online advertisement sales.

Smart phones have become the number one source people use to get their news, Steffens said, because they’re on-hand virtually at all times.

The second largest source for news is the electronic tablet. Steffens said while brands like the Nook and Kindle are used more for games and video, the iPad is more popularly used for reading and news. While the morning newspaper used to be read before work, he said, many don’t have the time anymore to sit down with it until the evening.

“Now the newspaper at best is the news from 9:30 last night,” Steffens said.

Yet you can’t get local news from CNN and the New York Times on a tablet, he said.

Tablets are also beating print newspapers because advertisements are moving online, Steffens said. The iPad has 80 percent advertisement clicks and eBay started as an auction site but started a “buy it now” option.

“If we could empower the ‘buy it now,’ we would be better,” he said.

Print newspapers also used to have the majority of coupons, Steffen said, as certain people would pick up the paper on days for advertisements. Online has taken over the coupons, too, though, he said.

“We owned coupons, but there is nothing Groupon does that we couldn’t have done,” Steffens said.

The number one reason newspapers don’t take the opportunity to use online resources is because of development and maintenance cost, he said. Following reasons included staffing resources, fear of lack of reader interest, lack of advertisement interest and having too many platforms to support.

“We are fearful of failure,” Steffens said. “We have limited resources and we don’t want to use up those resources and get burned.” He said it’s important to take that risk, though, or papers won’t move forward with the times.

Another obstacle for print journalism is social media, Steffens said, such as Pinterest, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. Pinterest includes news and sports photos, as it is an image centric site. Facebook is good for conversation, events, polls, surveys and sharing links. Twitter includes broadcast alerts, police scanners and hashtags to group popular topics.

Steffens said journalists should embrace the social media sites and use Twitter to get their stories out. Professional blogs are also useful and gather a sizeable readership.

Bundling and pricing is the fourth obstacle for print journalism, he said. Sometimes online content can come with a charge for consumers, and it’s important for a newspaper to try to be the best source for its community. If it is the only source, however, it should be on all platforms, Steffens said. He said 46 percent of all newspapers under a circulation of 25,000 have changed to online content.

“Don’t not try something just because you are not positive it will work,” he said.

Above all, it’s important to keep up with the changing times and what readers want in order to be successful, Steffens said.

“I wake up every morning thinking about the user experience,” he said.

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