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Raymond Snoddy 

A Lazarus-style return from the dead for traditional media?

A Lazarus-style return from the dead for traditional media?

The print version of Newsweek is making a return from the dead, business leaders are falling out of love with social media and old-fashioned journalistic values are on the rise. Are we seeing some important trends emerging here? Raymond Snoddy investigates.

It is a truism of modern publishing that once a print edition has been replaced by an online-only version it is gone forever.

There is no way back, usually because there were very good reasons for the demise of the paper and ink version in the first place.

If there have been many Lazarus risings from the dead then they are unknown to me. Until now.

When Newsweek shuffled off its 80-year print history there were tears from old-time staffers and much rending of cloth. It was a sign of the times and part of the not-so-gradual decline of print. News magazines had probably had it, in the face of the endless electronic streams and diminishing attention spans, and print news magazines were positively Jurassic.

But now, according to the New York Times (still in print), Newsweek is making a print comeback early next year.

Like J.R. Ewing in Dallas, it wasn't entirely dead after all.

Now there is a great danger of journalists getting over-excited over a single sighting. They are nature's natural contrarians who just love the counter-cyclical and are therefore dangerously prone to discovering a trend where none exist.

It is still remarkable if a printed Newsweek does indeed return from death's door, even if it only turns out to be, in business terms, a temporary twitch before it is re-interred.

It is difficult to bring any publication back, particularly as you will probably have to appeal to a different audience to the one that is perfectly happy with the online version.

If a print Newsweek were to make a successful comeback it might at least give pause for thought for those who say so casually that print is dead."

The plan, apparently, is for an upmarket 64-page subscription "boutique product" which would be closer to The Economist in tone than its old rival Time magazine.

This sounds like a good strategy. You can't display an online magazine very easily on a coffee table or the dentist's waiting room, as The Economist has always understood very well.

Paper has presence and cachet and still makes the words stand out from the common electronic herd.

But it is obviously inefficient and consumes more physical resources than electronic publishing at least in magazines, so the only strategy that makes sense is for print to be a premium product that confers status.

If a print Newsweek were to make a successful comeback it might at least give pause for thought for those who say so casually that print is dead.

Another contrarian trend emerged this week from a study by CNBC on how Europe's business elite is embracing mobile technology. Most of the findings are unexceptional. Business leaders like mobile technology and believe it makes their business lives more productive. More than 90 per cent, and rising, own a mobile device and growth in Apple ownership is slowing as Android surges.

And then there is the significant change in how business leaders view the importance of social media. A steady 13 per cent see social media as essential to their business. However, a growing proportion - 46 per cent - now consider social media to be "neither useful nor essential."

The point is that this represents a rise of 16 per cent since 2010.

This does not sound like people who haven't got around to social media yet and simply don't get it; after all, 85 per cent of them are members of a least one social media network.

This very much looks like people who have become acquainted with the phenomenon and either embraced or rejected it for their businesses.

In a world shaped by Leveson and the Bribery Act, Sun reporters were going back to old-fashioned ways and knocking on doors and talking to people."

It would, however, be a truism to say that the use of the social media has greater relevance for some businesses than others.

It's still that 16 per cent number that's interesting.

Could it be an early harbinger of a plateau being reached for social media - albeit a fairly elevated one? An early sign, at least among the business elite, of the apparently upward trajectory starting to fall away?

There was also a powerful lone voice this week against the absolute certainties on the role of the regional press purveyed by David Montgomery, chairman and chief executive of Local World.

The world according to Montgomery envisages journalists not only writing, subbing, publishing and proofing their own stories but also, in effect, curating material sent in from the local community. The newspaper, whether in print or online, will now evolve into the central hub for all information in a community.

Perhaps as much as 80 per cent of the information published will come from citizen journalists, or whatever you wish to call them.

The contrarian riposte came in the form of an open letter from Steve Dyson, former editor of the Birmingham Mail and the Evening Gazette Teeside. Dyson argues that regional journalism requires "painstaking, exploratory graft and not always for the front page."

He goes on to give examples such as knocking on doors to find out if pensioners are being ripped off by 'charity' canvassers or visiting a school's gates to ask parents about anonymous claims that a teacher has behaved inappropriately.

Then there are the regular face-to-face meetings with contacts at police stations and hospitals, which might lead to great local stories.

"These everyday activities help create decent regional newspapers' main content, but they don't arrive voluntarily," Dyson argues.

The former editor, who accepts the need that journalists should increasingly become multi-skilled, believes that the Montgomery model of local publishing could overwhelm journalists and make them prone to mistakes.

Actually, Dyson's is not entirely a lone voice. At the Society of Editors conference last month the editor of the Sun, David Dinsmore, told of a similar back-to-the future approach.

In a newspaper world shaped by Leveson and the Bribery Act, Sun reporters were going back to old-fashioned ways and knocking on doors and talking to people. They were getting great stories as a result.

So there you have it - and make of it what you will. The return of Newsweek in print, a softening of the business elite's love affair with social media and a return to old-fashioned journalistic values.

There may be important trends there. You never know.

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Bo Williams, Media Director, Brand links on 4 Dec 2013
“I think raymond should google "Dead cat bounce" Just because we would like somthing to be true dosent make it so.”