Business editors and publishers debate the future of print

Larry Kramer, Leonard Downie Jr., Johnathan Davis,  and Peter Bhatia discuss the future of print in the digital world at SABEW 2014
Larry Kramer, Leonard Downie Jr., Johnathan Davis, and Peter Bhatia discuss the future of print in the digital world at SABEW 2014

When International Business Times Media took over Newsweek, the bootstrapped digital news organization acquired more than a brand, it took on a handful of pricey contracts, including a $750,000 yearly printer contract with Lexmark. For IBT’s co-founder, Johnathan Davis, the contract was just one piece of the heavy cost burden embedded in legacy news organizations.

IBT is already turning a small profit on Newsweek, Davis said in an interview, in part because the company has moved to reduce those legacy costs and is working to innovate across all platforms.

“Three weeks ago we did something I never imagined we’d do, “ Davis said. “We launched a print publication.” IBT, which acquired Newsweek last year, relaunched the magazine’s print edition after almost two years of dormancy.

With legacy print organizations fighting to stay alive, and fledgling digital operations entering the arena, the sustainability of print-based publications isn’t straightforward.

On Friday, Davis joined a panel of editors and publishers to discuss the future of print at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Spring Conference held at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

“There are over 500 digital news startups across the nation hiring over 5,000 people,” said Leonard Downie, Jr., the panel’s moderator and former executive editor at The Washington Post. “Significant change is going on and we can’t separate business from journalism anymore.”

Peter Bhatia spent the last six months of his tenure as the Portland Oregonian’s vice president leading the publication into the digital age.

“The process has been both exhilarating and horrifying,” he said. “But it is important to know that even though we are digital first, we aren’t abandoning print altogether. This is just a new format.”

For USA Today publisher Larry Kramer, print still has a place in the media landscape. “Digital storytelling just adds another layer and readers get to go deeper into a story if you want to.”

From the likes of Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com CEO who purchased The Washington Post, to the startup publications fighting for viability, the panelists agreed with Downie’s opening sentiment. “There is no single way of doing this,” he said. “And we will continue to see the industry ebb and flow for a long time to come.”

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