The Web Challenges Publishers of All Kinds

SAN MATEO, Calif. –- The Web may be pulling readers away from traditional newspapers, but it’s not because people don’t like newsprint or the delivery isn’t timely enough. That was one of the assertions made here during a lively discussion among media experts during a panel discussion this week.

The event, sponsored by the non-profit Churchill Club, was titled: “Like it or Not, You’re in the Media Business: It’s Time to Make the Publishing Upheaval Work for You.”

Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) is one company that’s using new publishing toolsits advantage. Jeanette Gibson, Editor-in-Chief of Cisco’s New Media group, said Webcasting, blogs and podcasts have become key to the way the networking giant gets its message out both internally and to customers and the public.

She said the power of a company blog became clear a year ago when Cisco got involved in a trademark dispute with Apple over the company’s plans to call its new mobile device iPhone. Cisco already owned the trademark.

Gibson noted that Cisco, per normal practice, issued a press release stating its position. But it was a blog postingby the company’s general counsel that she said got far more attention, including Apple’s.

“It was more personal in communicating our disappointment than a press release,” said Gibson. “It was the difference of us telling what we believe and having a conversation with an audience.”

The blog post generated scores of comments, most of them positive toward Cisco’s position. The two companies later settled their dispute.

Gibson also noted that blogs are only one tool in the communications arsenal that large companies have to be ready to deploy to stay competitive. “Our employees no longer search to find what they need. They search elsewhere on the Web, and that could mean listening to a podcast, watching a video, receiving information on a mobile device or via an RSS reader or in a virtual world,” she said.

Which brings us to newspapers. Panelist, Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of the Wall Street Journal recalled that a generation ago, having a van deliver a newspaper to your driveway every morning was enough for most people. Now the Web (and cable television for that matter) delivers news on a 24 x 7 basis. But Crovitz argued that it’s not a lack of timeliness that’s hurting newspaper circulation the most; rather, it’s relevance.

He said most newspapers “are forgetting what they do best. It’s not about what happened yesterday. Most people know about that already so it’s not a good use of their time.”

By contrast, Crovitz said the Wall Street Journal has increased its circulation because it appeals to a community of similar interests and delivers the information those people want.

Ken Doctor, an analyst with research firm Outsell, said Web sites and news blogs have their own issues in retaining reader loyalty and trust. He said traditional print publications have a long-established bond with readers, many of whom grew up trusting them as a primary news source.

On the Web “I don’t expect fair and balanced,” said Doctor. “You may trust TripAdvisor for travel advise or Amazon for shopping, but what does a journalistic brand on the Web mean? I think the jury is still out on that.”

Meanwhile, the panel didn’t seem to think newspapers were going away anytime soon, even though it may seem like a move to strictly online publishing would be less expensive.

“It’s not going to happen because the major newspapers get 90 percent of their revenue from print,” said Doctor.

On the plus side, Crovitz said newspapers are plenty portable. The good ones put the day’s events in more helpful context and, he joked, are wireless.

Doctor may have relayed the sentiments of many in the audience who laughed at his comment that “newspapers get me away from the computer, which is very important.”

News Around the Web