Opinion: Jury out on nature of online publishing

In case you ever wondered what an editor-in-chief of a trade magazine like PRWeek actually does for a living- I am currently grappling with the redesign of prweek.com, which draws together content from our magazines in the US, UK, Germany and Asia, plus affiliates as far afield as Russia, Argentina and Poland, for our subscribers.

So I was interested to read this week that Trinity Mirror is testing a new publishing model for one of its 240 local papers - the Newcastle Journal - over the next two months, in which readers will be charged roughly the same for an online as for a print version of the paper.

Everyone in the media world, it seems, is trying to work out how to meet an insatiable demand for information online while generating enough revenue to still be able to pay their journalists.

Last week Rupert Murdoch spelt out his views on the issue at the American Society of Newspaper Editors Convention in Washington. And if anyone should know where this trend is heading it would be Murdoch. But while he raises some fascinating questions, his conclusions are far from clear.

In his address, he recognised the desire, particularly among younger readers, for more decentralised news and a dislike of 'news presented as gospel'. But, like most publishers, he is still convinced that the current centralised model of print journalism has a future, and that news simply has to be delivered faster, with journalists more open to entering 'extended discussions about the way in which a particular story was reported, researched or presented'.

Sounds fine in theory but it requires a considerable investment in resources - an investment that most media proprietors are not in a position to make at this point.

However, Murdoch talks about the possibility of augmenting newspapers' online offerings with some more risky, interactive media such as blogs.

The jury is still out among both media and PR commentators on whether blogs are a flash in the pan. But when moguls such as Murdoch start thinking about them, it pays to take them more seriously. Even at PRWeek we are currently looking at not only blogs, but the potential of 'webinairs' and 'podcasting'.

So what does this mean for PROs? To some extent the answer is as unclear as a publisher's own vision of the future, which creates an enormous opportunity for blue-sky thinking. PROs with a real vision of how to give the kind of depth, breadth and dynamism needed for a story to work on the internet could even help to shape aspects of the future of publishing.

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