Print is dead — long live old media

November 12, 2010

The electronic word represents the financial future of news, whether delivered by email, iPads or whatever platform comes next. But in terms of galvanizing public opinion and setting the broader agenda, nothing yet is replacing the power of old media, spearheaded by the printed word. That’s why deals like the merger of The Daily Beast, a cutting edge website, with old-school magazine Newsweek shouldn’t be dismissed as the work of old fogeys nostalgic for newsprint.

Observers of that deal, announced on Friday, could be forgiven for that misconception. After all, Sidney Harman — the hi-fi magnate who paid $1 for Newsweek — is 92. The Daily Beast’s owner, Barry Diller, was born during World War Two and the site’s founder and editor-in-chief, 56-year-old Tina Brown, long ago reached the pinnacles of U.S. print journalism, heading Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.

“Today, we look at print from the refreshed point of view of an expatriate who sees the old country with new eyes,” Brown said in unveiling the deal. The most charming feature of the old country is influence. While the Daily Beast says it attracts 5 million eyeballs a month, it doesn’t reach into the corridors of power the way Newsweek, as tired as it became, still does — at least to a point.

The impulse of new media to piggyback on the credibility of the print tradition is widespread. It drove Bloomberg LP to acquire BusinessWeek. It’s one reason Reuters Breakingviews columns appear in nearly a dozen daily newspapers around the world. Just this week Dealbook, the financial website owned by the New York Times — also a print partner of Reuters Breakingviews — began a daily appearance in print.

New media startups, too, have embraced their forebears. ProPublica, the non-profit news group led by former Wall Street Journal editor Paul Steiger, has partnered with print and other older media to draw more attention to its weighty investigative journalism. And even the poster child of digital news upstarts, Politico, owes most of its financial success to its printed edition.

The print business will continue to shrink as younger readers embrace digital content and advertisers demand evidence their ads are being seen, the greatest innovation of the web. But the old media survivors — and their content, however delivered — will continue to punch above their weight in influence for a long time.

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