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'Monitor's' Web-first shift

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The Christian Science Monitor, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, published its last weekday issue on March 27. But unlike such newspapers as The Rocky Mountain News, which folded completely a few weeks earlier, the Monitor is pioneering a business model that may help professional news organizations remain viable. John Yemma, editor of the Monitor, explained the changes the title is making and the reasons behind them in his keynote at American Business Media's Digital Velocity event in New York last month. “We're going from a newspaper printed five days a week and a lightly updated Web site to a Web site with a constant stream of news over 24 hours, a daily news briefing [in PDF form] and a weekly print magazine,” he said. Writers and reporters are platform-agnostic, but there are three separate production crews for online, the daily briefing and the weekly. “We free our editorial resources from the print paradigm and print deadlines,” Yemma said. “We have reporters filing online on a continuala basis. This gives us more timeliness. It gives us more content to be scraped by the aggregators, and this should move our traffic numbers.” CSMonitor.com attracts about 1.5 million unique monthly visitors. “Our plan over the next four years is to grow our uniques and page views about fivefold, and break even on print, at which point we essentially reach financial sustainability,” Yemma said. Published by the Christian Science Church, the Monitor's operations are subsidized. The goal is to trim annual losses from almost $19 million in the budget year that will end April 30 to $10.5 million in 2013, according to a story in the Monitor. While a subscription to the Monitor daily cost $219 a year, the price for the new print weekly is $89 a year. CSMonitor.com is free to users and supported by advertising. Eliminating the newspaper production and distribution costs will produce a considerable costs savings, but there will be personnel cuts as well. “By May, we will have reduced staff by 20% to 25% from May 2008,” Yemma said. “This will come from a combination of attrition and buyouts.” The Monitor, which is based in Boston, is keeping intact its eight overseas bureaus and nine U.S. bureaus, including an eight-person staff in Washington, D.C. “Those bureaus are our competitive advantage,” Yemma said, adding that the advantage may become even greater in the long term as newspapers and broadcast media eliminate bureaus, particularly outside the U.S., for financial reasons. The Monitor is going against a popular view in the media—that news has become so commoditized on the Web that it cannot be monetized. “There's a lot of talk about whether news organizations can turn the clock back on the news-is-free mentality,” Yemma said. “Like everyone else, we're looking for new ways to monetize news, such as micropayments and premium content behind pay walls. We're also looking at content syndication and partnerships with other media organizations where our bureaus can provide international reporting they can no longer fund.” However, the Monitor's current financial plan does not depend on any of those potential revenue streams, he added. Yemma said the Monitor isn't making hasty changes in response to the current economic downturn. “This decision was about two years in the making,” he said. “We did a strategic review, a deep dive into our financials, a look at best practices in the industry. We did prototyping, market research, focus groups and so forth.” M
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