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Opinion: Newspapers' Future Isn't Paper

Newspapers are increasingly trying to provide Internet services that attract subscribers and advertisers.

For years newspapers have been trying to incorporate internet versions of their news with traditional journalism with uneven results. The NY Times offered free Internet access to limited numbers of articles for years, but efforts to get people to pay for full access to on-line subscriptions were less successful.

Online newspapers usually get income from advertising, but that also has been uneven.  Local newspapers also embraced Internet presence.  Patch is an excellent example of an all-Internet local journalism effort that in many ways is ahead of traditional newspapers that are fighting with publishing both print and Internet. 

The Palo Alto Weekly hinted that in the future they may drop printed newspapers and go entirely to an expanded PaloAltoonline.  The Mercury also is trying to make their internet version attractive and profitable. One major feature of internet newspapers is that users often consider it an interactive medium but sometimes find it hard to interact even when there is an opportunity to leave comments.

Another difference is the range of devices, mobile and desktop, that people use when logging into news sites. Some of them are better adapted to reading longer articles than others. The result is articles may tend to be shortened to keep readers' attention with some loss of details and value.

Journals such as Baseline, CIO Insight and E-Week dropped printed and mailed magazines for online versions late last year. The results of these efforts also were uneven. Several of them cut back the depth and number of articles posted online and scaled back the extent of coverage.

Getting proper balance for Internet news and information is a continuing trial.

Another problem is generating revenue. While Google and Facebook demonstrated that advertisers are willing to pay to be on their sites, it seems more difficult to convince advertisers to participate with Internet newspapers. The NY Times has relatively few ads.  Local advertisers would be a harder group to convince to advertise than national ones, so local Internet newspapers may be at a disadvantage.

There’s no question that the future of news distribution will be internet more than printed. Communication is rapid, news can be updated in real time, and people can interact and comment promptly.  The problems are monetizing the service so that people are served well while providing the needed staffing to publish quality news and articles to satisfy people’s cravings. Seeing the future is one thing.  Making it happen soon and in a cost-effective manner may be something else.

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