About 10 years ago, as America Online and the introduction of the Netscape browser made the term, "information superhighway" part of the lexicon, I noticed that among 20-somethings, it was no longer cool to read a newspaper. Instead, the younger workers around the office simply booted up their PCs and surfed through stories online.
Like a lot of newspaper executives, I dismissed it, reasoning that benefits of having a tangible news product that you could hold, pass around, make copies of and clip stories from made newspapers impervious to competing online media.
That was then.
Now, just about anyone under the age of 35 considers newspapers quaint, if not downright offensive because of their environmental consequences. Despite population increases, circulation at most major dailies is in rapid decline and has been for years. More people are going online. And most newspapers continue to be baffled by how to generate revenue from their Web sites. With a few exceptions, such as the Wall Street Journal, they make nearly all their content available for free.
That may be changing. Exhibit A: this report from The Korea Herald written by Kim So-young:
Internet the new growth engine for newspapers: NYT publisher
The Internet could provide newspapers with a new engine for growth with greater reach and better speed rather than threaten the traditional print industry, says Arthur Sulzberger, chairman and publisher of the New York Times.
"Some mention the crisis of newspapers saying young readers no longer read print newspapers in the Internet era, but it''s not that the Internet is eroding the newspaper market but that newspapers have gained a new medium to deliver information," Sulzberger said yesterday in an interview with Korean journalists on the sidelines of the 58th World Newspaper Congress in Seoul.
To better exploit the opportunities generated by the Internet, Sulzberger said the New York Times is planning to charge for some of its online content beginning September, including its popular business and sports columns.
"We want to make sure that as we make a transition from a print-based to digital-based business, we have to be finally viable so that we can continue to meet our mission of offering high-quality news and entertainment services," said the publisher, who owns a newspaper that has a position of journalistic authority greater than any other news organization in the world.
"But the rest of our articles or about 90 percent of what you currently get free will remain free."
The newspaper''s online business is making serious money. The New York Times Digital, which includes Boston.com as well as NYTimes.com, netted $17.3 million on revenue of $53.1 million during the first half of 2004. The digital unit is growing at 30 to 40 percent a year, making it the newspaper''s fastest-revving growth engine.
NYTimes.com gets more than 500 million page views every month, among which foreign readers account for about 16 percent. "This also helps us enter foreign newspaper markets," said Sulzberger.
This is good news, because newspapers are the leading news gathering mechanism in virtually every city in America. The strength of our newspapers is vital -- not only for the public relations pros who work to communicate with their target publics through newspaper coverage, but for our democracy. It is clear that the word "paper" in newspaper will soon be as outdated as the medium seems to today''s college kids.
What new word will describe the product of these news engines?