Media in Transition: Reading the Paper Online

The only hard-copy paper I read regularly is the Sunday edition of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.  That’s because it’s part of the e-Edition deal.  I get both by paying for the Sunday paper. Daily, I read the e-Edition.  I like it because it’s an electronic copy of the hard-copy paper.  I also like it because it’s a lot cheaper, and because I don’t have to worry about recycling it.   

I am part of the solution for the paper.  Newspapers all over the country have been trying to find out how to make the same amount of money with their websites that they make with their print editions.  One of the answers is getting people to pay for the online editions.  Still, not many papers do it.  One of the big reasons is that readers might just go to other websites that are free. Advertising is the other way, but, for some reason that I don’t understand, papers have not been able to get enough bucks that way.  

The Ledger-Enquirer’s free online edition has features that you don’t get with the e-Edition.  It’s really one huge blog.  People can and do comment on the stories.  For that reason, and because the paper has some video coverage of stories, I sample it, too.  The comments are sometimes puerile, uncivil, and, well, lies – you get more of those when people can comment anonymously – but there are some entertaining, intelligent, thoughtful ones, too.

The websites operated by traditional news providers are getting the majority of the online audience, according to Journalism.org.  From what I can gather – I haven’t been able to get the information formally from Ledger-Enquirer management – the Ledger-Enquirer follows the national trend with a much larger online audience than its print audience.   

Even though online operations at papers have gathered larger audiences, and, according to Journalism.org, are turning a profit,  the overall loss of revenues  has caused papers to cut staffs drastically. The Ledger-Enquirer is no exception.  This concerns me a lot.  Newspapers are extremely important. The really good ones – and the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer has a proud legacy, winning two Pulitzers – have been an important check on powerful interests, government and private.  It takes seasoned, experienced, talented reporters who are given the time to do the digging needed to get the job done. Small staffs don’t provide a lot of digging time.

 We all know what President Thomas Jefferson said about the press, but, it’s so good, I’m going to repeat it:  “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate any moment to prefer the latter.”  

  Next, we’ll take a look at how TV stations are dealing with the online phenomenon.

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