Death of newspapers or new era of online journalism?

I just received an email from an old friend about The Christian Science Monitor, which published its final daily print edition yesterday. This prompts me to ask, “Should search engine marketers mourn the death of newspapers or celebrate the new era of online journalism?”

The Christian Science Monitor.jpg Before I tackle this emotional question, let’s review the facts objectively — as any good journalist would do.

The key words in my first sentence are “daily print.” Or, as John Yemma, the editor of The Christian Science Monitor, wrote yesterday, “As of today, we are shedding print on a daily basis.”

In his Editor’s message about changes at the Monitor, Yemma acknowledged, “To survive in today’s business environment, newspapers everywhere are taking radical steps. Some are decreasing the frequency of print. Some are now Web-only. Some have shut down or surrendered to receivership.”

For example, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News announced in December 2008 that both would cut back home delivery to only Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays starting in spring 2009. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has just gone to a web-only version. And the Rocky Mountain News and Ann Arbor News have shut down completely.

Meanwhile, the Project for Excellence in Journalism has just issued The State of the News Media 2009. As the inverted pyramid style of news requires, the introduction of the annual report on American journalism captures the “gist” of the story: “Some of the numbers are chilling.”

It continues, “Newspaper ad revenues have fallen 23% in the last two years. Some papers are in bankruptcy, and others have lost three-quarters of their value. By our calculations, nearly one out of every five journalists working for newspapers in 2001 is now gone, and 2009 may be the worst year yet.”

So, when Yemma said in his Editor’s message, “Saying goodbye to daily print closes an era,” he was talking about more than the Monitor. He was also addressing the looming death of the newspaper industry.

However, Yemma then turns to this new thought: “But the Monitor itself – the century-old journalistic enterprise chronicling the world’s challenges and progress – is becoming more daily than ever.”

Yemma added, “No longer inked on wood pulp, no longer trucked from printing plants to your mailbox, no longer published only five days a week, the daily Monitor is now a dynamic online newspaper on all days.”

And he concluded, “Two million individuals now engage with us online each month, about 40 times the number that have been subscribing to the print daily. We are linked deeply and extensively across the Internet.”

Before joining the Monitor in July 2008, Yemma oversaw editorial operations of the Boston Globe’s website and led the efforts to transform the newsroom from print to multi-media. So, he has the chops to make that statement.

Or, as Yemma put it, “Think of it this way: We are putting on new clothes for a new era, but we are the same Monitor, committed to the same objective we have adhered to since we were launched a century ago.”

And according to Newsknife, The Christian Science Monitor was one of the top six sources in Google News in February 2009, and #1 in terms of most appearances on the home page as a percentage of site total.

So, maybe there is something for search engine marketers to celebrate here.

To paraphrase Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and cofounder of The Well, The Christian Science Monitor is now just bits flying around rather than atoms, but it remains a steady and reliable source of information about the world.

I’ll link to that.

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