Everywhere you look in the traditional media industry, you can see signs of turmoil and disruption: to take just a few recent examples, the New York Times is fighting with its union over cutbacks to benefits, The Guardian is looking at forced layoffs to cut costs, and the Journal Register Co. recently filed for bankruptcy for the second time. And yet, there are still some industry leaders who question whether newspapers and other outlets should be focusing on “digital first,” something that journalism professor Paul Bradshaw argues is a waste of both time and energy, at a time when the industry needs those things the most. He is right — the question isn’t whether digital should be first, it’s whether those who aren’t focusing on “digital first” will even be around to participate in the debate for much longer.
The bankruptcy filing by the Journal Register Co. seems to have sparked a lot of the recent dissent over the issue, if only because the chain of daily and weekly papers had been the poster child for digital initiatives at parent company Digital First Media — including a restructuring of management to focus on the web and innovative projects such as an open “community newsroom.” To some, the financial failure of the chain looks like a failure of the entire digital-first philosophy, despite the fact that Digital First CEO John Paton has explained the Journal-Register’s troubles are based more on legacy costs such as printing contracts and pension obligations for past employees.
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