POSTSCRIPT / March 16, 2010 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Papers must reinvent themselves to survive

ENDANGERED MEDIA: The advent of alternative online news sources has not been kind to traditional mass media, particularly newspapers.

This was one of the disturbing findings of a recent survey in the United States reported yesterday from New York by the Associated Press. The trend may find a parallel in the Philippines whose media culture hews to the American model.

We have been saying for years that our print media may have to reinvent themselves to survive the onslaught of radio-TV giants — and now also online news sources, including cellular phones and hand-held gadgets.

The electronic news tsunami is not yet here, but what is that distant rumbling we hear out there?

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ONLINE NEWS: The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s annual assessment of the US news industry reported, among other things, on a growing number of Americans getting their daily news online — and for free.

The survey suggested that getting people to pay for news online at this point would be quite difficult. After studying the reading habits of the estimated six in 10 Americans who say they get some of their news online on a typical day, the survey also found out:

* Each news consumer spends an average of three minutes and four seconds per visit to an electronic news site.

* About 35 percent of them said they check on a favorite site each day. Even among those who have their favorites, only 19 percent said they were willing to pay for news online — including those who already do.

* Some 82 percent of those with preferred news sites said they would look elsewhere if their favorites start demanding payment.

The survey interviewed 2,259 persons from Dec. 28, 2009, to Jan. 19, 2010. The margin of error is plus/minus five percentage points.

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TV BEATS PRINT: On Philippine mass media, a good area of study on readership and revenue is the advertising spending in the ongoing campaign for the May 10 elections.

The data are still complete, considering that the campaign is still ongoing, but trends already noticed include the lopsided bias for political advertising on television compared to print media.

The TV campaign budgets of the big-spending candidates dwarf their spending for newspaper advertising.

The pro-TV bias is understandable. Even before the election season, television had been gobbling up a continually growing slice of the advertising pie for specific products.

Television beats lackluster and static print advertising. Being audio-visual, TV engages more of the senses and grips more firmly the viewer who just sits in front of the boob tube as he lets the message sink without having to pay for it.

With TV prices going down drastically and payment schemes getting easier, more households now have one or several sets. These households no longer find the need to buy a newspaper or subscribe to a magazine.

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BLOGS & WEBSITES: All mainstream newspapers have electronic editions that started out as mere repackaging of their print edition’s content.

Now the major news outfits have full-blown teams dedicated to designing, loading and maintaining their websites. They also have their own advertising departments selling time and space.

This can be an expensive full-time endeavor. The logical question is how to make the electronic edition not only pay for itself but also evolve into another profit center.

Thinking from the same old newspaper box, most media owners and revenue managers target readers or site visitors aside from the usual advertisers.

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PAY AS YOU ENTER: The Wall Street Journal requires readers to pay for content, the AP reports, and The New York Times has announced plans to charge for full access to its website.

Starting next year, Times readers will be allowed to access a certain number of stories for free each month, with fees kicking in for readers who exceed that level under a metered system.

That will not work in the Philippines. Not yet, anyway. You all know the reasons.

In the US, Tom Rosenstiel (the director of the research project) said that “if we move to some pay system, that shift is going to have to surmount significant consumer resistance.”

The AP cited the research firm eMarketer report that online advertising last year saw its first decline since 2002. Four of five Americans surveyed said that they never or hardly ever click on ads.

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CHANGING HABITS: The US survey noted that news habits are fast changing — blogging is declining in frequency, one out of every four Americans gets some news on his mobile phone; and people are looking for news more frequently on social Web sites.

The study also showed that newspaper ad revenue fell 26 percent in 2009 compared to 2008; local TV and radio ad revenue were both off 22 percent; network TV ad revenue was down eight percent; and network news division resources are down more than half since the late 1980s.

Newspaper spending on reporting and editing has fallen roughly 30 percent over the past decade, probably more at many big-city dailies, Rosenstiel said.

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BULLETIN BOARD: Arsenio Johnny Alagos Jr., 71, father of journalist Peter Alagos, a member of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI), died of heart failure yesterday. His body lies at the La Pieta Memorial Chapels in Angeles City where a Mass will be offered at 6 p.m. today. He will be interred tomorrow at 7 a.m.

Last Saturday, Jose Due, 69, father of Jojo Due, another CAMI member, was buried at the Holy Mary Memorial Homes in barangay Cutcut, Angeles City.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 16, 2010)

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