I heard something intriguing recently on The Herd with Colin Cowherd, an ESPN syndicated radio show. The Brett Favre saga, the sports story of the year, finally came to an unpredictable end late recently. This news was so interesting that it hurdled news-genre lines to become mainstream and, in even in some markets, headline news. The former face of the Green Bay Packers, the living legend, was scrutinized as closely as the former queen of pop during the embarrassing weeks of last year’s Britney Watch fiasco that caught all our voyeuristic attention.
So when Favre inked a deal in the wee hours with the New York Jets, the August 7 edition of the Washington Post had already been printed. Likewise, its Jersey Shore competitors and its reporters slept soundly after hard days of bringing the most relevant stories to its readers. And yet, no mention of the Favre deal.
Take that in for a moment. The most accredited news sources covering specifically the region of this national news story had no mention of the deal.
For the sports industry, the Favre story creates its own legend as an ironic tell-tale of the lack of loyalty within an industry that exists on fans’ loyalties to their teams. For the media industry, it demonstrates the urgent need of our audiences for information. It crystallizes the waning relevancy print media has in the context of its Internet and television counterparts. So where does that leave print media?
Obviously, technical journalism and business-to-business media operate under a subset of conditions that shelter them from certain growing pains and changes that mainstream media face. But I argue that the foundation of all print media and the forefather of all branches of journalism is newsprint. And I think we as an industry would be remiss not to take heed of this big lesson.
So the newspapers can, and did, update their online counterparts. But isn’t this in essence confirming the inherent flaw of print editions? Are we sending this same message to our respective audiences?
In response to the demand of online presence for evolutionary purposes, there’s one trend of replicating printed editions and making them available online. Sure, technologies such as Texterity enhance the print version in its virtual state with search tools and click-through ads. But the information is the same. If the essential component of electronic media is up-to-the-minute information, if that’s what our online audience expects from online news sources, we aren’t meeting these criteria.
The other alternative is creating unique and original content for online editions. The internal struggle here, at least for my magazine group, is the issue of internal competition: If a topic or news item is relevant to our readers, we present it to them in print; if it’s trivial, we skip it. So where does this “extra” content come from. And if we’re giving our online readers extras, what message does that send to our print readers? Think again about the Washington Post reader whose paper omitted this story, which he then finds online. What incentive does he have to pick up that paper tomorrow, when he can get all of its contents, and more, online?
Then there’s the issue of creating extra original and unique content in and of itself. Where will the resources to support the needed staff come from before the profits, assuming some, are reaped? Most likely, at least for private (those not backed by associations) publications, the words will come from our overworked computers. For those who are healthy enough to hire new staff to cover emedia — both sales and editorial — this strengthens the argument of internal competition.
I sense we are on the tip of the answer to all of these revolutionary questions, which is a scary place to teeter. But if the Favre situation has another lesson in it, it’s that you have to be flexible in order to survive in a changing atmosphere. Though Favre’s medium changes from Lambeau Field to the Meadowlands Sports Complex, he still has the same job to do. Under a new set of circumstances, new playbook, coach and uniform, he will take his skills and put them to good use. Will you do the same?
Emily André is managing editor for Printwear and Promowear magazines, imprinted-apparel industry trade publications headquartered in Broomfield, Colo. She has been active in an editorial capacity for various business-to-business publications for six years and serves on the board of the Denver chapter of ASBPE, of which she has been a member since 2004. André additionally freelances out of her home office in Denver. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.