Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Star-Ledger EIC on the future of the industry

The boardroom where the editors of The Star-Ledger meet three times a day to discuss the content for the next day's paper. (Photo Credit: Tasnim Shamma '11)
By Tasnim Shamma (Jamaica, NY)

Every Tuesday, editorial interns are invited to boardroom lunch sessions with editors and journalists at The Star-Ledger. For our final session, we were honored to have Jim Willse, our editor-in-chief, as our speaker.

I was happy to learn that he would be teaching a "Business of News" journalism seminar at Princeton, which I hope to take in the spring semester. His talk, incidentally, also focused on the business of news and revolutionizing the model (prefaced though by the fact that the figures mentioned during the meeting involved a hypothetical newspaper and that none of the ideas he posed were definitive plans for The Star-Ledger). Willse was the former editor and publisher of The New York Daily News.

With ad revenue suffering in comparison to previous years, he proposed a possible remodeling of the cost structure of newspapers. What were formerly "assets" (printing presses and trucks) are now liabilities. By outsourcing the printing and delivery, a lot of money could be saved. He said newspapers could also save millions of dollars by eliminating television listings (which is heavily tied to demographics of an older audience) and baseball box scores (which he thinks will probably never happen). Another million dollars could also be saved by reducing the size of the paper itself: The Star-Ledger has plans to reduce the width of its own paper from 50 inches to 46 inches.

His second point was that nearly all of the advertising revenue comes from three days -- Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. By printing three days a week and relying on a news website on other days, a news company could still effectively inform its readers. The Star-Ledger’s website, NJ.com
, was recently ranked 11th in the nation by Editor & Publisher, with a 105 percent increase in only one year.

Willse added that The Star-Ledger plans to take full advantage of its website and videos, a
s the largest video newsroom in New Jersey (there are no major television stations in the state).

Despite the gloomy circumstances surrounding the industry, as long as the essence of journalism survives, which involves spending lots of time with people, learning from them and uncovering the truth -- Willse said he was optimistic.

"I think we'll be okay, but it will take a few more earthquakes to get there," he said.

-- Shamma is a senior writer for The Daily Princetonian, a rising junior at Princeton and a 2006 alumna of the Princeton University Summer Journalism Program. She returned this summer to volunteer as a counselor.

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