07 May 2009

Online-only Doesn't Pay for Finnish Paper

Switching to an online-only format can cost newspaper publishers more than they save.

A recently released study of the Finnish financial daily Taloussanomat -- which printed its last edition in December 2007 and now focuses exclusively on delivery through the web, e-mail and mobile -- shows that the move resulted in a 52 percent savings but a 75 percent drop in revenue because of losses in print advertising and subscriptions.

The paper also severely cut its newsroom staffing levels, and most stories currently come from news agencies or other sources. Journalists who remained said they felt a lot of pressure to boost traffic figures. `If the visitor numbers are low, [the news desk] will publish some populist story like a story about David Beckham’s underwear to get reader figures up quickly,' one journalist said.

Overall, the newspaper `has seen a shift towards populism as a result of pressure to increase visitor numbers, aided and abetted by the constant availability of data on site use. There has also been a shift towards "how to" journalism,' authors Neil Thurman and Merja Myllylahti conclude.

However, while online-only papers should feel freer to exploit the potential of the digital medium without the burden of legacy content, `other burdens -- financial and logistical -- counteracted that advantage. The cumulative effect means killing the print edition does not immediately transform a title’s ability to produce interactive, nonlinear, multimedia content,' they write.

The study is to be published in Journalism Studies. A free .pdf. version is available online from the authors.

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