COEXISTING IN THE NEW MULTI-MEDIA WORLD

Byline: Lisa Lockwood

NEW YORK — “As long as online information is delivered to people through large boxes on their desks, I don’t think print is threatened or long-form journalism.”
So said Norman Pearlstine, editor in chief of Time Inc., who was a panelist Wednesday at a seminar entitled, “What Business Are We in Anyway?” Other panelists were Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., chairman and publisher of the New York Times, and Pamela Thomas-Graham, president and chief executive officer of CNBC.com.
The seminar was part of a one-day Media Summit, sponsored by The Standard and New York magazine.
Pearlstine said the online medium is mostly valuable today “as a great place to get stock prices and sound bites +It doesn’t replace the first section of the Wall Street Journal. Maybe one third of it.”
The seminar focused on whether newspapers and magazines will eventually cease to exist (the answer was no), whether it’s possible for media companies to make money with their online versions, and what the journalist of tomorrow will look like.
“I don’t think one will replace the other,” said Thomas-Graham. “I see it as a series of channels.” She said the online medium allows readers to act on information. “It doesn’t mean we’ll stop reading books or business publications. Portability is key.”
One question that was brought up was whether a newspaper like the Wall Street Journal would ever stop carrying stock quotes — which would save a lot of money — and only offer them in its online edition.
“I’m shocked at the number of our readers who still read stock tables in the newspaper,” said Sulzberger.
Graham-Thomas pointed out that with a later stock market closing, “people find it extremely valuable to get quotes after 8 p.m. [online]”
Asked how media organizations make economic models work, what current models are working and what future models will look like, Pearlstine replied, “Timeliness, specificity, information that enables you to have a transaction — shopping, buying, selling — all have potential for a paid model. That level of information there’s a fee-paying market for.” (Time Inc. plans to launch an online version of InStyle this summer, which will have e-commerce capabilities.)
In response to a question of whether all newspapers need to be in the Internet business, Sulzberger replied that “they can’t afford not to. The last word is news, and we can leverage the same sense of community. You’ve got to be agnostic as to the means of distribution. Dead trees with ink-off trunks limits you. You have to have the ability to reach millions more.
“We’re in the Internet business in a major way, with partners,” he added.
Pearlstine noted that media organizations have to recognize how hard it is to migrate to the new technology once a business is embedded. He said publishers need to set up a new organization isolated from the core business, or be willing to suffer short-term margin erosion.
Michael Wolff, a moderator of the seminar and media columnist for New York magazine, noted that Time Inc. is a company that’s increasingly dominated by hardware and issues of connectivity. “And you’ll soon have a new chairman who has said he’s not interested in content. What’s your ‘Queasiness Quotient?”‘ asked Wolff.
“I don’t worry about magazine growth in terms of editorial independence,” said Pearlstine. “There will always be, in a large company like this, competition for capital for investments. Executives who have to focus on allocation of capital have to have pretty good reasons why they want to invest in magazines.”
Pearlstine added that the online medium values interactivity and timeliness more than synthesis and analysis. “It values archival material. With current technology, storytelling in print is more easily done in magazines than online.”
“It’s a generational shift,” said Thomas-Graham. “There is a sense of community in the Internet community. There is a spirit on the Internet. You can get points of view in unfiltered ways. It’s a new type of journalism. There are new voices now being heard, and people are hearing unfiltered thoughts.” Sulzberger took issue with that, however, and argued that the filtering process is important.
“The issue we face as an industry is the difference between information and understanding. If we care to say all information is equal, a lot is false, some is true. Some brings understanding to bear. As journalists, we’re in the knowledge business. We try to bring the power of the public voice and knowledge.”
Discussing how the online medium will transfer to other touch points, Thomas-Graham said, “Mobile devices are exploding this year.” She said companies are trying to figure out their wireless strategy and how one makes it work. “We’re trying to get information and services to TV, PDA [personal digital assistant] and the cell phone, and you have to figure out the way to make it pay.”
Sulzberger said the Times has registered 11 million people who have come to its Web site. He said the Times can target advertising to online subscribers’ particular interests.
Describing the journalist of tomorrow, Thomas-Graham noted, “There are certain traits — an ability to break news and drive for insight in reporting, a need for much deeper understanding of who one is writing for and what voice is appropriate. They do have to be pithier…. The most valuable journalists can do TV, the Web site and can communicate in multiple media.”