I think it's ironic that the same day we hear about The New Orleans Times-Picayune laying off half of its newsroom staff while the Birmingham News fired 60 percent of its journalists, MediaLife reports on a survey that says many believe it will years, if ever, before newspapers go entirely online.
The example of the Times-Picayune going online and dropping to three print editions a week is not typical of the direction papers will take, say media buyers and planners surveyed by MediaLife.
Buyers were asked how many years, if ever, before papers will go entirely online and drop print. Twenty-five percent said it will never happen; print will always be around.
But 15 percent said the change will happen with five years; 25 percent said within 7 years, and another 25 percent said 10 years.
A lot can happen, of course, in five or ten years that could alter the speed or totality of a move to digital and away from print. How many of us would have thought, only five years ago, we'd be reading the paper on our cellphones?
The survey also asked how newspapers can remain relevant to readers. The overwhelming response was to concentrate on local reporting and investigative journalism. The challenge will be providing good local coverage and analysis with increasingly smaller news staff. That sounds like a tough one to me.
I think print will remain relevant from an advertiser's point of view for a while -- even if not on a seven-days-a-week basis. Retail advertisers, for example, may find it hard to gain readers' attention online that display ads in print can generate for their offerings. We've learned to ignore banners, pop-ups and moving images on our screens, but it's hard to miss great full-page display ads or inserts in print.
So even as we see more newspapers moving all their content online while cutting reporting staff and trimming their print publishing schedules, I think (and hope and pray) we'll continue to see newspapers on the printed page for a long time. Three or four days of flipping the pages of a real newspaper is better than none.