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Will Online Video Save the News Industry?

WASHINGTON -- With news industry advertising revenue and subscription rates in free fall, some executives see online video as a silver lining in an otherwise gloomy economy.

In a panel discussion here at Google's offices, editors from the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN and other media outlets described their early forays into Web video as a process of fits and starts.

The Post began loading its Web site with video content in 2000, when the venerable newspaper hired its first videographer. But the transition was hardly seamless, said James Brady, executive editor of washingtonpost.com.

"A lot of people at the paper said, 'Why are you doing video? You've never done that before,'" Brady said. "Unless I'm missing some technological solution, you couldn't actually do it before," he added, calling online video a "golden opportunity" for news organizations.

The news industry -- and newspapers especially -- are in desperate need of a golden opportunity. These are dark times for traditional journalism, as newspapers across the country have been pruning content and laying off staff to cope with the harsh economics of producing and distributing news in the digital era.

The latest example comes from Seattle. On Friday, executives from the Hearst Corporation told employees of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that if they could not find a buyer for the paper within 60 days, they would move to an online-only publication model or shut down operations entirely.

But Seattle is hardly unique. The gloomy news about the potential demise of the Post-Intelligencer continues a trend of newspapers closing or curtailing their print operations. The Washington Times last year stopped publishing its Saturday edition and the Christian Science Monitor has abandoned its print publication altogether.

Among the hardest hit has been the New York Times. The paper's parent company reported that in November that advertising revenues dropped 21 percent from the same month in the previous year. Worse still, online ad revenues for the company's news media group dropped four percent, driven down by declines in job and real estate listings.

Buffeted by slumping advertising and circulation revenue, the Old Gray Lady is in dire straits. Among the options to infuse the company with cash is the sale of the Boston Globe, its stake in the Boston Red Sox or the Internet information service About.com. None figures to be a long-term solution.

Michael Hirschorn runs through those possibilities in a recent piece for the Atlantic, where he posits that the New York Times Company, buried under debt and with no credit available, could go bankrupt by May. While he admits that is an unlikely worst-case scenario, Hirschorn arrives at an inescapably grim conclusion.

"Regardless of what happens over the next few months, the Times is destined for significant and traumatic change. At some point soon -- sooner than most of us think -- the print edition, and with it the Times as we know it, will no longer exist," Hirschorn wrote.

And yet Ann Derry, editorial and video director for the Times, remains hopeful. "I guess I have this faith that things will settle down a little bit and there will be opportunities [in the future]," she said.

Next page: Video's influence.