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Emotion drives discussion of the new print + digital ecology

07 December 2012 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

An unanticipated word captures the frustrating place between print and digital that news media executives find themselves perfecting as they enter 2013. We need to better explore this entirely novel world between media’s past and future.

Image of several publications like Wall Street Journal and books being destroyed. An INMA committee was recently developing the theme for an upcoming conference when the debate turned on one word: “ecology.”

The volunteer advocating the word said this: “I like ‘ecology’ because, like most technologies, we haven’t ended up with a print world, then a digital world added on — it’s an entirely novel world that takes some understanding.”

Looking up ecology’s precise definition, I found this: “The science of the relationships between organisms and their environments.” Yes, that sounds like “an entirely novel world.”

After some discussion, the word was dismissed as not broad enough and translatable, and we moved on.

Yet something happened in recent days that pulled me back to this word.

I didn’t think there was much to say about the unique ecology that today resides between print and digital until I heard from INMA members in preparation for the association’s upcoming 12th annual News Media Outlook report.

In a brief, open-ended questionnaire sent to members, I simply asked about priorities in the news industry and at your company.

What I got back — in near unanimous chorus, tinged with emotion — was that this new news ecology of “print + digital” has reached some kind of apex of frustration and excitement. It feels like a “bang your head against the wall” moment, both a cauldron and opportunity. And members shared these dueling emotions by e-mail and telephone calls.

I will stipulate in advance that multi-media is our industry’s future. By decade’s end, all of our major growth opportunities will be digital.

Yet prompted by INMA members, I have changed course in researching and writing this year’s strategic report for the media industry. Instead, I am focusing on the trouble spots inside the print/digital ecology.

“News Media Outlook 2013: The Print + Digital Dynamic In Exponential Times,” scheduled for public release December 13, is my attempt to bring clarity to seven themes:

1. The exponential times of abundance we live in.

2. Leading our hybrid industry in a time of extraordinary change.

3. An honest assessment of where print fits in our multi-media plans.

4. The key issues in the print + digital ecology.

5. The revenue opportunities most likely to replace print advertising.

6. The transformational mobile moment confronting us.

7. What happens to journalism and brands in this age of transition.

My report is not a traditional “state of the industry” document. Instead, it tries to find the sweet spot between print and digital that exists today — the ecology. And, with the help of INMA members, we start to dissect the challenges.

Our industry’s transition from print to multi-media is, as we enter 2013, about five items:

    • Filling the revenue hole left by print advertising migration.


    • Maintaining relevance with readers flocking to new digital platforms.


    • Deciding how much time and money to invest in print versus digital.


    • Managing perceptions of a confused market of readers and advertisers.


  • Motivating employees to constantly adapt, learn, and fight.

My hope is that this unexpected subject is the beginning of a conversation that has not yet taken place, culminating in the INMA World Congress April 28-30 in New York where we go more to the point with the theme “Monetizing the New Print + Digital Ecosystem.”

Stay tuned to INMA for more discussion and debate about the print + digital ecology, this “entirely novel world.” Hopefully, we can come up with some answers to what the years ahead will look like and how we can influence our industry’s direction.

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About Earl

Earl J. Wilkinson is executive director and CEO of INMA. In his interactions with INMA members worldwide, Earl has one of the broadest views of newspapers of anyone serving our industry today. He is a trendspotter and a leading advocate for cultural change, transformation, and innovation. This blog represents his unique view of the emerging global news media industry.

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