Daily history mirrors changing industry

Friday, September 18, 2015 - 2:19pm

In the past 25 years, The Michigan Daily has cut its print paper down from more than 12 pages to eight, adopted a more digital-focused platform, started a weekly news magazine and created several smaller online blogs to add in extra digital content.

And all of these changes are in line with the shifting nature of the journalism industry.

Chris Baxter, one of this year’s Knight-Wallace Fellows and a statehouse reporter for NJ Advance Media, said the shift to promote online content is nothing to be surprised by.

“The reality is, the Internet changed everything in terms of delivering the news and presenting the news and how the news is being consumed and who is consuming it,” he said. “So really, a wide array of the way things have been done have changed very quickly with the advent of the Internet and news essentially becoming free rather than a public commodity.”

While physical copies of The Michigan Daily have been available for free for decades, major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today still charge for theirs. With the rise of the online content, Baxter said these papers have also been forced to offer up their content for free on their website — or at least part of it.

The question for most newspapers trying to keep up with changing technology is how to continue making money.

Business models like online paywalls are an effort to increase physical paper circulations and print advertising revenues, both of which have, according to the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2014 report, continue to fall each year. Digital ad revenues, on the other hand, digital advertising has grown, with $50.7 billion spent on digital ads last year alone. 

University alm Joseph Lichterman, who was the Daily's editor in chief in 2012 and now writes for the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, said print advertising continues to make up a larger chunk of advertising revnue than digital advertisement, even as print circulation decreases.  

“That’s probably the biggest reason why the Daily is still printing every day,” Lichterman said. “It’s because print advertising really makes far more.”

LSA senior Rose Filipp, the Daily's current business manager, said print advertising is critical to the paper's operation. 

“Many people I have talked to assume that print advertising is dead, but that just isn't the reality yet,” she said in an e-mail. “Advertisers still value the ability to put their information into their clients’ hands. Additionally, the Daily has put out some new special guides, which we consider to be niche advertising products."

Baxter said print papers aren't going away just yet.

“Even at The New York Times, while digital revenue at companies that are making a go of it is increasing double digits every year, it’s still way behind what print advertising revenue was,” he said. “Print advertising revenue still far eclipses digital revenue and frankly, that’s why the age-old prediction that’s been being made since I was in high school, that newspapers are going to die, that’s why it hasn’t happened.”

But many newsrooms are increasingly embracing a digital-first model, according to Danya Bacchus, another Knight-Wallace fellow. Bacchus, an NBC anchor in San Diego, said when she works on a story, the first thing she does is post it on the web.

“I’m tweeting and I’m posting on Facebook,” she said. “They want us to periscope. Now they want us to Snapchat so the main focus isn’t about putting the product on air, but it’s more so getting it to digital first and then trying to figure out how you can get the viewer or the person who’s looking at their phone to then watch the newscast.”

But with the increasing use of social media among journalists, Bacchus said, they should also take increased precautions when using sources obtained through social media.

“There’s still room for so many little mistakes,” she said. "Though it’s all this access to information, you still have to do your due diligence in making sure that information is correct.”

But despite the majority of news moving online and mobile, Baxter said the core journalistic values remain the same. 

“There is a lot about journalism that hasn’t changed and that really is the foundation of the skills of what makes a good journalist,” Baxter said. “Rampant curiosity, ability to ask, sharp insightful questions, an ability to see through noise and nonsense, an ability to ascertain documents and work human sources and structure complex stories and write in a way that’s clear and concise and accurate, these are all skills that are just as relevant and important and necessary for high-achieving journalists now as they were 25 years ago.”