'The trend in media industry is combining the analog and the digital workflow'

28.06.2012, Viewpoint


Pascal Zemp is Associate Senior Consultant for the Institute for Media Strategies. For many years, he has overseen the process of introducing new systems and practices and the organization of converging editorial teams in the international market, and he has managed the development programs of different editorial teams.

They say that print media is dying. Is it really in danger?

To respond very provocatively: is there print media anymore? I think nowadays in our media industry we have to acknowledge that we have more channels and more specialties and print is one of those channels, but I do not think that there is only print media anymore. There are two ways of looking at it. One way is, unfortunately, what most of the media is doing,  approaching the issue from the viewpoint of the editorial team, asking what do we want to publish. And if they are publishing printed media since time immemorial, they are deciding maybe just to go with that printed media. The other way is looking at the brand strategy and assuming the audience’s perspective.

An audience knowing a big brand is no longer satisfied with having only the printed media because the printed media comes in the morning (if it is daily) or every Saturday (if it’s weekly) or Sunday (for the European market). But they want to be informed also during the day and during the week. And the audience is in that digital age and for the first time is able to tell the editorial what they want and at what time. I don’t know of too many editorial teams that decided to have only a print channel. I know many former and current print editorial teams that are very much struggling with the new possibilities they have.

For example, in Switzerland, there is a weekly newspaper that’s 60 or 70 years old called Weltwoche (“The world in a week”). In the past, it was very good, but now, it tends to be a bit political, and the editorial staff decided not to migrate to the Internet.  They publish the newspaper every Thursday. They have a website, of course, but it only displays the cover of the next issue. In the beginning of the year, twice they had really big exclusive scoops, and suddenly they decided — because they knew that this story is so big that they can’t hold it from Monday, Tuesday to Thursday —to start a digital strategy for those scoops.

And they started to publish those stories on the website. This was brilliant, of course, because they got the

We, as journalists, have to acknowledge that maybe we are not paid for the story, but the audience is paying for a product they like — one that is convenient, entertaining, intelligent, and at some point closed

story out earlier, but what happened then? The entire news media in Switzerland, print, mobile, digital, discussed the story and pushed it further. And on Thursday the print-version Weltwoche was in the newsstands but nobody was buying it. This is an example of a response to your question of whether there is print-only media anymore or not.

Can online media replace print media?

In English, it’s unfortunate that the word “newspaper” contains the word “paper” in it. In my mother tongue, German, it is called “zeitung,” which means something from time, news from time. If I’m speaking German, I always use the word zeitung for print and also digital channels, because for an editorial team not much is changing. It is still expected to produce very good, entertaining, investigative stories, regardlesss of the brand, and should get the audience’s attention.

In the past, the audience was measured by circulation [of the publication]; now I think we can measure it with traffic, and what is even better with the total audience, we can count the print and the digital channels. I hate the word “online.” In my opinion, online is [what you call] the status of the modem — is it online or offline? I think in the media industry we should talk only about analog workflow and digital workflow because online sometimes means something even a bit old fashioned today, www, which is stationary: you have to have a computer; you have to sit down; you have to go online — whereas digital is much more. Digital for an editorial team means being in social media, communicating with the audience, maybe sending out Twitter feeds, RSS feeds for the geeks.

291And what we see in Europe is a really, really strong trend to go mobile. In Switzerland, the biggest media outlets, the www style, have more than 50% of their traffic coming from mobile devices and this went up 10% within one year, which is crazy. On the other hand, if you look at print media, you should also say that print or the paper is just another type of display. It’s just another very cheap display, with a very bad refresh rate, but a display, which is very convenient. You can buy it, store it, use it for garbage or put it in your shoes in the end, but it is just a display which is not worth much money. I think the discussion should be in our industry are there paid channels or are there only free channels? I think this is a big problem. In German-speaking countries there is a debate among journalists: Some journalists say, “I’m a print journalist,” while others say, “I’m an online journalist.” And I think both are stupid. Because a journalist is a journalist and has some special topics; he’s a expert on something; he can write very well; he can have other skills — but he is not solely a print journalist; he is a journalist for a topic within a brand, and if that brand decides to add more channels, he should be able to adapt.

I think the print journalist comes from “My story is printed on paper, no one can delete it, and the audience is buying a newspaper, so I get a salary out of it.” The online journalist is producing maybe the same content topic-wise with a different “recipe,” but he is as good of a journalist as the print newspaper one, but there hasn’t been an online journalist who has gotten some money from his content. And I think this is the difference. And that’s where we — the media industry — have to think a lot.

Maybe one could say very provocatively: perhaps that’s totally wrong, that the audience has never paid for content. Maybe they have paid or are paying only for convenience. It’s very convenient to have a fresh newspaper in your mailbox at 7 o’clock in the morning. It’s convenient to read it. And it has a start, page 1, and an end, page 24 or whatever. And if I have read it, I know everything. A good editorial gives me the feeling that I know everything at the moment. I can spend minutes, hours, days on a website. If I click every

We, editorial staff, should not be like agencies; we should give a clear overview of what is happening and what is important in our editorial view

article that is hyperlinked on The New York Time website, I dare say that you can spend your whole life [on that site]. Beginning to read in the morning and clicking and clicking and never having the feeling of “now I know it, now it’s finished, thank you”— I think this is the difference.

We have to find new business models on how to sell maybe not our content, but our products. And we, as journalists, have to acknowledge that we are producing stories, which is a good thing, but maybe we are not paid for the story, but the audience is paying for a product they like — one that is convenient, entertaining, intelligent, and at some point closed.

I think also on the digital channel we should come to a point where we have a page 1 and a page 24. When I come across articles and websites such as “10 things you need to know about sport” or whatever, I’m very happy when I get to point 10. I know there is no point eleven, and I can walk out very happily.  I think this could be the direction we should go.

What are the current trends in the industry?

I’m 45 years old. I started around 20 in a local daily newspaper in my hometown. There were 3 newspapers, and all the newspapers were the same except for the comments. Then we started to introduce desktop publishing, everybody said, “Ohhh, no, no, the newspaper is dying.” But it did not. Then we started to publish colored pictures, everybody said,  “No, this has nothing to do with quality journalism.” But it had to do with quality journalism. Newspapers died because of economic reasons and because the audience shifted to digital channels.

What happened with this industry during the past 20 years? They said let’s not move on to new things and keep the old things, and those who went for new things, they went much too fast. Our industry is so not used to listening to what customers want, on what channel they want our products. Nobody ever asked if they really want dirty paper that blackens your hands, but we are used to it. And suddenly there will be a shift.

The trend is combining the analog workflow and the digital workflow, meaning that you have to discriminate between the channels. For example, everybody is totally aware of the print deadline, say, at 8 pm, and everybody is working to that point in the analog workflow. On the digital workflow, I think our industry made a lot of mistakes, because we updated every minute on the hour. And we always say we are fast and competitive. We don’t think about the audience, because the audience is not like us journalists, able to watch TV the whole day, to be on the internet the whole day, to read the whole day. The audience wants at certain time in the day to be informed or entertained.

The mobile channel is the most intimate channel, because it is the same device on which you’re receiving text messages from your loved ones, where you have your personal emails and Facebook and your favorite playlist

We, editorial staff, should not be like agencies; we should give a clear overview of what is happening and what is important in our editorial view. We journalists always think that everybody else is also a journalist and knows it, which is completely not true. We have to tell stories in a selective way, in a way that is very convenient for the reader. When you go to a restaurant, say, a Chinese restaurant, they have menus that are mostly 64 pages long, and you start reading, and you absolutely don’t know what to order and what kind of food it is. It’s the same thing [in our industry]. And when you go to a nice restaurant where you have only 20 options (5 fish dishes, 5 appetizers, 5 meat dishes, and 5 desserts), you’ll be happy.

There is the print channel, the internet channel or the www channel, which can be very rich and large, and there is the new channel — and it is called mobile. I think there is a difference between the online channel and the mobile channel, because it depends on your mood which channel you choose. The mobile channel is the most intimate channel you can ever imagine because if you have a smart phone and you are used to292 using that smart phone also as an alarm clock in the morning, that is, the smartphone is beside your bed, then you also use it for tweets, Facebook, text messages — more and more, people are interested in what is happening, so they surf websites via mobile.

Mobile is another channel: not every story should be a top story on the mobile channel. Mobile should be very caring; it should reflect weather conditions.  If you are a newspaper, you can tell your readers after the alarm clock: “Brr, it’s a freezing day today, don’t forget your coat, and by the way …” and tell  story. If you have a mobile application for your newspaper, you can tell your reader at twelve o’clock: “Oh, I see that you’re near this square. There was an accident there; use the other one.” Mobile is very close, intimate. It is the same device on which you’re receiving text messages from your loved ones, where you have your personal emails and Facebook and your favorite playlist. Mobile is a different channel that has to be developed. It is a developing very fast from the audience perspective. 

Interview conducted by Anna Barseghyan

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