'Christian Science Monitor' Shifts Focus To Web John Yemma, editor of The Christian Science Monitor, discusses the paper's new publication model: It's moving the daily operation to the Web and converting its print paper to a weekly.
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'Christian Science Monitor' Shifts Focus To Web

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'Christian Science Monitor' Shifts Focus To Web

'Christian Science Monitor' Shifts Focus To Web

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If you want a good example of how the Internet is changing the newspaper business, consider the Christian Science Monitor. After 100 years of publishing, this spring, the Monitor will begin publishing daily only on its Web site and abandon the daily paper edition. It's the first daily to make this change, and other papers are likely to be watching closely. The Monitor will maintain a newsprint presence through a weekly edition.

My guest John Yemma is the editor of the Christian Science Monitor. He rejoined the Monitor in July after 20 years at the Boston Globe, where he most recently was the deputy managing editor for multimedia. He was a reporter and editor at the Christian Science Monitor from 1979 to '89. The Monitor is a highly respected paper that emphasizes international news and has an international circulation. Although it was founded by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science church, it's not a religious publication, with the exception of one daily article about religion.

John Jemma, welcome to Fresh Air. Why was the decision made to publish the daily edition of the Monitor only on the Web?

Mr. JOHN YEMMA (Editor, Christian Science Monitor): Terry, the Monitor had been thinking about this for several years because the Monitor's circulation - print circulation had been falling, really, for several decades had been falling. But the lack of growth in print and the extreme growth that we were experiencing online really meant that we should move our resources online, plus we felt as though it would save some costs by moving out of daily print and just publishing in print once a week. So in the spring, we'll also be moving from five days a week print to one day a week in print, in addition to our Web-first Christian Science Monitor.

GROSS: And the one day in print will be a weekly edition separate from the daily stuff on the Internet.

Mr. YEMMA: It will. . .TEXT: GROSS: Do you consider this move a vote of no confidence in the newspaper as we know it?

Mr. YEMMA: You know, I think it's pretty hard to look at the newspaper industry right now and feel very confident about the future of print. The future of print certainly has a daily - you know, print is - has a distribution problem. It has a production problem. It imposes artificial deadlines on the news. You know, we back up everything to meet our print deadline, just as every other newspaper does. It has a pretty lousy carbon footprint, too, and so I think increasingly in this economy and this age where people are much more environmentally oriented, print is seen as a luxury item. And while there's a place for print because it's a unique reading experience, it's pleasurable, it may also be slightly more leisurely reading experience, not quite as immediate, and therefore maybe makes more sense on the weekends.

And that's what we're targeting our weekly for, and that's where I think, in fact, in the world of newspapers at large - I just came over to the Monitor from the Boston Globe during the summer and joined the Monitor - and at newspapers like that and the New York Times and other big newspapers, probably the migration, whether it's soon or later, will be to much more online on a Monday-through-Friday basis and then probably still print on a weekend basis.

GROSS: The model that most newspapers have been using is if you want the print edition, you know, the paper print edition, you pay for it. If you want to read it online, it's free. Is that a model that makes sense to you? Is that a model that's sustainable?

Mr. YEMMA: I think it's the only model that is out there. I don't think that there is an alternative. The experiments that have been done with pay walls, as they're called on the Internet - time select, for instance, that the New York Times has tried - they had failed. It turns out that the expectation online - and you know, we'd have to go back in the time machine to try to change this - but the expectation online is that news is free, and that expectation won't be altered. That's where consumers believe in how they believe they should get their news.

So it's a difficult economic model, and it's one that's sustained only by having relatively large traffic, that is, a large number of unique visitors and page views, and that means that you don't want to have a subscription model online. There is one exception to that, and that's the Wall Street Journal and financial news organizations, which can, because of this - the special nature of financial news which can charge subscriptions, but most others don't.

GROSS: Well, the Christian Science Monitor is in a kind of unique situation in the newspaper world because you're funded in part by the Christian Science church, so some of your finances are spoken for. But you still do have advertising, and on the Web site you have advertising. But what's your revenue model now? Like, where's the money coming from if it's not coming from people paying for the print edition?

Mr. YEMMA: Well, we still hope people will pay for our weekly print edition, but the revenue will be coming from the Web, through growth of our traffic online. The advertising that you've seen on the Web site, we expect to be able to grow traffic by putting more editorial resources against our Web site, draw more users to it. It becomes a kind of a destination site, not unlike - I mean, our own version of the BBC or the New York Times or USA Today.

If we can invigorate our site much more, we become a destination for people who care about the human dimension of global news. That's our mandate. And we feel that over five years, we have a - you know, a strategic plan that has been developed over the past couple of years, has been refined recently. We feel that we can grow our traffic five-fold in five years, and that that will move us toward a sustainable model. At the same time, we'll be decreasing the subsidy we receive from the Christian Science church, which has, for 100 years, very generously subsidized and invested in the Monitor, but you know, long term, it's not sustainable to just continue to do that. So we're trying to move things into more of a balance.

GROSS: So what you're saying is you think if you have a lot more readers on the Web, you'll have a lot more ads or be able to charge more for those ads?

Mr. YEMMA: Yes, both. We'll be able to charge more but we'll also have more ads. We'll have more page views, more actual ad impressions, and if we can sustain the cost per impression - that is, the CPM, at a relatively, you know, decent level, we can actually grow our revenue.

I mean, this is not going to be a gold mine, and it's going to be a very tough thing to do. The alternative, though, is really not tenable. The alternative is a declining print circulation with a very poor reach and very poor deadline problems. Terry, right now, on a given weekday, we put the paper to bed at noon on a weekday, and then it goes into a printing process, and it then goes into the U.S. postal service and possibly, if you're in a big city, you would get it the next morning. More likely you would come home and get it the next evening in your mail box.

And so, that's just not a good way to be doing the news. Even analytical news, which we specialize in, needs to be delivered within the news cycle in which somebody's trying to grasp the importance, say, of the conflict in Gaza right now.

GROSS: And this is another example of how you're different from most daily newspapers because you're subscription and because it's mostly through the mail, your deadline is earlier and people receive it later. You know, at least in most dailies, the deadline is like late afternoon, early evening, and people can get it early the next morning.

Mr. YEMMA: True, and it makes most dailies still - I think most dailies are still tenable. Although, you know, every daily, even at the Globe where I worked, every daily goes to bed at, say, midnight, and for six or seven hours until it arrives on your doorstep, there's no updating of it. So if events happen around the world, it's an old artifact of what happened the night before.

GROSS: I'm interested in hearing what you think the Web site is going to look like once the daily edition is Web only. And before you comment on that, let me read you something Jack Shafer wrote in January on Slate, which is, of course, a Web-only publication.

And he wrote: "From the beginning, newspapers sought to invent the Web in their own image by re-purposing the copy values and temperament found in their ink and paper editions. Despite being early arrivals, despite having spent millions on manpower and hardware, despite all the animations, links, videos, databases and other software tricks found on their sites, every newspaper Web site is instantly identifiable as a newspaper Web site. By succeeding, they failed to invent the Web."

What's your reaction to that?

Mr. YEMMA: Well, Jack Shafer's very colorful. And Slate, by the way, is a site that, you know, doesn't look unlike a lot of newspaper Web sites. It's a good site. I think he's right that a lot of newspaper Web sites started out looking like, as we call it, newspaper.com, basically put the newspaper online, and that was because the journalism was first published in print and then was simply sort of shoveled over to the Web site. That's changed. That has been changing much more rapidly in the last few years as newspapers have converged their newsrooms and their online operations, and there's a lot more Web-first journalism that goes on.

I think his critique is brilliant and snarky and it's very Slate-like, and it's not necessarily true, though, because I think there are some very good and very successful newspaper Web sites. And I think he's looking at the past, that most news organizations right now are really thinking Web-first in many ways, and they still are somewhat hindered in their thinking because they have a print product to do first.

It - the Monitor, we're moving away from that. We're going Web-first, and I think what we'll be able to see is how that significantly changes the way the Web site looks, feels and interacts.

GROSS: Do you expect that once you go Web-only on a daily basis that the stories will be shorter... TEXT: Mr. YEMMA: Yes.

GROSS: Or will be written in a different tone of voice? Because the common wisdom is people don't read long stories on the Web and that people expect Web-based stories to be more personal than the type of reporting we're used to in newspapers.

Mr. YEMMA: Yeah. I think that many of our stories will be shorter. I think we'll still have some longer stories. And it is true that there's a different tone of voice. The tone of voice for journalism coming out of the reporting of the conflict in Gaza right now is not going to be personal. It's going to be straight-ahead journalism.

But there is the voice of the blogger, and the bloggers tend to be somewhat like columnists at traditional news organizations. They can report news, as we know, you know, famous columnists all over the place have often broken stories. William Safire and others have done and still have voice. We expect our bloggers to do that, and we expect to, you know, fairly clearly label that for our readers. So there will be shorter pieces. There'll be faster pieces. There will be bloggier pieces. But there will also be traditional pieces.

GROSS: Are you going to lay off a lot of people?

Mr. YEMMA: We have, like every news organization, we know that we're going to have to do with less, and we've announced that in this coming fiscal year, which begins for us in - I think it's in May - we have to take our staff down by 10 to 15 percent. We don't have a specific number of people that that will represent. We're trying to decrease our costs so that we can meet our targets - our cost targets as we also hope to increase our revenue online.

And you know, it's no secret that everybody in the news industry, and frankly, everybody in the world is going into a very tough economy right now. So that - those kind of, you know, cost containment measures, which involve real human beings and which pain me to talk about it, but you know, it really is a loss of resourses - those are the kinds of things that every news organization has to face. We have a relatively modest cut but it's going to hurt us. It's true.

GROSS: Is the Monitor unionized, and are there any union issues pertaining either to, you know, the print part, the printing presses part or the journalism part?

Mr. YEMMA: No. The Monitor is not unionized, and the printing has been outsourced for, I would say, probably 20 years to a remote printing plant, so we don't even have our own presses. We don't even have our own trucks. So in some ways, this transition has been going on for us for a lot longer. We've been getting a lot of the costs out of the system in ways that a lot of news organizations are just now grappling with. And those that have tight union contracts, they will be faced with a harder time changing, you know, their cost structures.

GROSS: My guest is John Yemma, the editor of the Christian Science Monitor, which is preparing to publish its daily edition exclusively on the Internet. We'll talk more after our break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: The Christian Science Monitor is preparing to quit publishing its daily print edition and publish daily only on its Web site. We're talking with the Monitor's editor, John Yemma.

Now, another change that you're making at the Monitor is that you're combining coverage of several foreign countries with McClatchy - the McClatchy chain, which owns around 30 dailies. So you'll be sharing reporters in some countries. I assume you're doing that for economic reasons, to save money.

MR. YEMMA: Well, it's actually for reach reasons. We are not reducing the number of foreign correspondents we have, nor, so far as I know, is McClatchy reducing the number of foreign correspondents. But in areas where we don't have a correspondent based - so, for instance, we have a correspondent in New Delhi. They don't. They have a correspondent in Venezuela. We don't. We will use their copy from the correspondent in Venezuela. They'll use our copy from New Delhi, and we'll just coordinate a little bit more closely.

I think these are the kinds of relationships that a lot of news organizations will be getting into and are getting into, in which they're sharing resources so that they can extend their reach. But it's also true that, you know, one way to think about that is that it will save on costs - it could save on costs in the future if there was a desire to expand. And if we ever have to cut back - which I hope we don't have to, but you know, the world we live in says that we might have to - then that kind of a relationship would be beneficial.

GROSS: There's always been a firewall in journalism between editorial and advertising. On the Internet, it seems like maybe it's going to be a little harder to do that because the interplay of ads and editorial material is so much closer. I mean, just in terms of the design. There's the question of whether the ads are going to be pop-ups, whether they'll be that kind of like video that you have to watch before reading the article, you have like no choice of getting out of it. And so I wonder if you find yourself making advertising decisions that you never would have been included on if you were doing a print-only newspaper?

Mr. YEMMA: Well, yeah. I think there are different - there's a different way of thinking about that wall - that so-called wall between advertising and editorial. Not necessarily just because we're doing things on the Web, but in the last few years, because of the great difficulties that news organizations have had in keeping their revenue together so that they can keep their news organizations whole, there has been much more cooperation in general between the, you know, the business side of the operation and the editorial side. And that has meant that lines have been crossed, as you've seen, as recently as, say, the New York Times, which has just very recently begun running a very large ad at the bottom of page one. An ad, by the way, that doesn't have, you know, a little designator that says advertising. And when I first saw it, it looked like what in newspaper terms are called, you know, sky boxes or teasers at the bottom. This was an ad for CBS.

You know, no criticism of it. It's the kind of thing that newspapers have to do, but it's also an example of the line that is now being crossed. Similarly, online, the placement of ads - you're right, the pop-ups, some of the more intrusive, you know, the push-downs, the take-overs, all of these different terms that we have - all of those are advertising - types of advertising that in the old days, when print was king, when it was essentially a monopoly in the city, you know, they could - they had the luxury, really, of having a much tighter wall of - between editorial and advertising, and that's eroding everywhere.

GROSS: Young people who have grown up with the Web are used to getting news for free on the Web, whether it's from Web-based publications like Slate and so on and Huffington Post, whatever, or from newspapers that also have a Web-based part. And I'm wondering if that ever makes you angry because, I mean, somebody's got to pay for the news.

And people who grew up with newspapers grew up expecting to pay for the newspaper, and that, of course, paid for the newspaper's ability to operate along with its advertising revenues. But does it ever upset you that a generation or more of people have grown up just assuming that the news they read doesn't need to be paid for?

Mr. YEMMA: Well, I guess I've probably gone through most of the stages, you know, of accepting that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

I've gotten to acceptance of that. It's been a long process. I don't think I'm upset by it. I think that it's an inevitable migration based on the Internet, which is the great disruptor in all of this. And you know, there's no turning back the clock on that.

That said, you know - and I think you'll hear this from any number of journalists and increasingly a lot of other people - you know, the demise of the independent news organization, if that happens - and we're seeing that through attrition - through the laying off of reporters - my particular worry is not in the world of global coverage because we're committed to it, and the New York Times and a number of other news organizations are committed to covering international affairs.

My worry is when a newspaper in a small state shuts down its operations and no longer has, say, a bureau in the capital city, it no longer watches the state legislature or no longer watches the county commissioners, all of which have taxing authority, and you know, easily have politicians who put their hands in the till. That's a function that no one else has filled other than professional journalists.

I mean, gifted, dedicated bloggers - yes, God bless them, but I don't think you can count on them to fill that role. So that's the big danger, I think, in our society, that corruption could spread because there aren't independent watchdogs out there.

GROSS: John Yemma is the editor of the Christian Science Monitor. The Monitor plans to give up its daily print edition and publish daily only on its Web site starting in the spring.

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