Does Print Media Matter?

By Matter

Earlier this week I grabbed a good ole’ hard copy of USA Today here in the Matter office, thumbed through the Money section and spotted this piece speculating on the future of two of the most esteemed national print newsweeklies, Time and Newsweek. Newsweek of course made its own headlines recently when it resumed publication of its print edition. Talk about “Back to the Future.”

I am showing my age here a bit but I’m a PR professional who’s had countless conversations with journalists, who in self-deprecating fashion, refer to themselves as “ink-stained wretches.” I also have fond memories of a PR tradition of yesteryear – the Monday morning arrival of “The Weeklies.” For the unitiated, this feeding frenzy took place at our agency’s receptionist desk where our account teams would devour the print editions of Computerworld, InfoWorld, NetworkWorld, eWeek, InformationWeek and countless other now defunct trade publications.  We’d huddle and push and shove in an attempt to “scan for client coverage.”  Ahh the good old days, right?

Reading Rem Rieder’s (is that a great name for a media columnist or what?) aforementioned USA Today piece got me thinking again about one of the great debates of the past decade or two in our industry: what’s more important? Print or Online.  Which can more effectively move the sales needle?  Which do clients value more?  Which is likely to prompts reader action? Which has more legs and enjoys a greater shelf life?

Before you reply with a snarky “that ship has sailed” remark, consider the comments about – and from – Samir Husni, founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, who is quoted in Rieder’s piece.  Rieder notes that “Husni is serenely untroubled by the print-is-dead drumbeat we’ve all heard for years. Husni thinks this is a great time for journalism in general and magazines in particular. He loves the fact that a number of digital outlets, Politico among them, have started up print magazines.

“The marketplace is sending the signal that there is value in print, that there is money in print,” he says.Rieder continues, “But, Husni cautions, the stakes have been raised dramatically. To win the hearts and minds — and pocketbooks — of readers in a bursting marketplace, and with everyone’s time at a premium, you’ve got to be really, really good.”

Husni is of course, biased, but he makes some great points.  And if we, as PR professionals intend on cracking this rarified media real estate, we’d better be well, even better.

The truth is most PR pros rarely if ever, strategize and then move to pitch/land a “print only” story.  The same goes for cover stories or the proverbial “page one” piece.  Those decisions – unfortunately – are out of our hands.   However, we’ve all had clients who covet the printed article; we’ve also worked with others who think just the opposite – “What do I care about print?  My customers and prospects, investors, partners and employees live online, on their iPads, their smartphones, etc. If I can’t share, I don’t care.”

The truth (as we know) is that most any story appearing in a newspaper or magazine also lives online, often appearing there first and sometimes in longer form. For good quality journalism, print vs. online is really only a question of how the content is delivered, many of us believe.

So here’s the potentially unanswerable question: what is more valuable? Print or online?

I am old school. I like the feel of a paper or magazine in my hands with my morning coffee or evening beer. I like understanding where a particular piece ran, what space it shared editorially and how it was juxtaposed against ads. I am also in the minority, no doubt about it.

While most print circulations now trail their online brethren and print stories are arguably not as valuable from a Google Analytics, SEO, content sharing standpoint, there is something special about holding up the hard copy of a New York Times, USA Today or Economist story or handing it to a client. Sadly, that’s becoming rarer and rarer.

What are your thoughts? Is it a demographic thing?  Do younger media pros look at print publications as the publishing industry equivalent of the Model A? Do you ever read the newspaper anymore? When is the last time you looked at FORTUNE, Forbes or BusinessWeek without the help of Chrome, Firefox or Safari?