Audio interviews - by on Thursday, October 30, 2008 17:27 - 7 Comments

Interview with John Yemma about the CS Monitor’s future

Click here to stream the interview. Or download the MP3.

Earlier this week, The Christian Science Monitor announced that they’ll be ceasing daily print production.

Instead, they’ll be focusing much more heavily online and creating a new weekly magazine. We were interested in finding out how the Monitor’s new Web-first focus would change their journalism and how they would begin to incorporate social media. We also discussed the business reasons behind this decision.

Editor John Yemma said the Monitor has been considering this decision for about two years.  The review involved looking at the Monitor’s resources, doing market research, looking at the overall market and what it would take to make this transition. The biggest part of this transition will be revenue.

The Monitor makes the majority of its revenue from subscriptions, not advertising like most newspapers. By cutting back to a weekly product, the Monitor has to drop its subscription rates from $210 to $89 per year.

The Monitor, however, will save more than $2 million a year in printing and distribution costs, according to Yemma. Still, that leaves a gap of revenue of about $1.5 million.

“The main way we’ll make up for the lost revenue is by growing traffic on the Web,” he said.

Yemma means serious traffic. He’s talking from going from about 5 million page views a month to 25-30 million a month. The Monitor is also facing an 11 percent budget cut next fiscal year, which will mean 10-15 percent of the Monitor’s editorial staff will lose their jobs.

The Monitor is hoping to be sustainable within five years from this new model. If the Monitor is able to hit that 25-30 million page view goal, Yemma believes they will be sustainable.

The Monitor is rolling out a new CMS next year, which Yemma says will them to “democratize the running of the Web site.”

“It has to be done by people who have more technical knowledge,” Yemma said about the current Web site and CMS.  “We want people who are less technically oriented and more journalistically oriented to be more involved in the daily management and the hour-by-hour management of the Web site.”

Yemma says that some staff will have to be retrained, while new employees might need to be hired. But it’s too early to tell. Going truly Web-first is a huge paradigm shift. The Monitor isn’t even sure yet what all the possibilities are.

“There are so many ways of telling stories on the Internet that we as journalists haven’t even explored yet because we’ve been so locked into the very linear story telling of print,” Yemma said. “When you switch to a Web-first strategy, you begin to think wow the Web is about interactivity, the Web is about feeds and fluidity and mashups.

The Monitor is still figuring out its social media strategy. Over the next few months, editors will hash out how to best utilize social media and how to make it fit into the Monitor brand. Yemma, however, knows what he wants social media to help the Monitor accomplish.

“Our idea is that the Monitor doesn’t just exist as a single Web site within the kind of little niche that is created, but that it broadens horizontally across the Web and creates a community of Monitor fans,” he said. “Social media really helps us broaden out along those lines.”

The Monitor is not giving up on print. The new weekly magazine will feature original content and analysis that hasn’t yet appeared on the Web.

“Pay people money for the weekly, they deserve fresh, not second-hand content,” Yemma said.

Yemma said he sees planning some of the pieces for the weekly in a way that helps create topics pages for the Web site. For instance, the prototype of the new magazine has a cover story called the “Putin Generation.” That piece would eventually slide onto the topics page of CSMonitor.com for Russia.

“In a sense, the magazine helps us kind of create, over time, a sort of Monitor encyclopedia of the world that will be a living encyclopedia,” he said. “The web is about relatively short, relatively fast updates. The magazine is more in-depth and the two work together on the Web.”

The Monitor is launching another new product that will probably cost money (that’s still being debated). It’s a 2-3 page daily brief in PDF form. It will have abbreviated versions of four main stories on the Web. It would also have briefs and an editorial.

“As we move online, we want to give some of our print readers — who aren’t that keen on the online world — something they can print out and read over their cup of tea or coffee.”

Yemma sees print as an increasingly premium product. Web traffic is highest during Monday-Friday, and Sunday has traditionally been a strong point for newspapers. Yemma believes it makes sense to target a premium print product for the weekend when people have more time to relax and sit down.

“If it’s a premium product, you don’t want to have it every day of the week,” he said.

Some of the other topics discussed:

  • Could this model work for other papers? How about for-profits?
  • What was the biggest fear you and other top Monitor employees had before making this decision? How did you overcome it?
  • How have your employees taken to this news?
  • How have loyal readers of print responded?
  • A daily newspaper is centered around the daily miracle. There is no daily miracle on the Web. How will deadlines be decided now? What will the new daily workflow be like at the Monitor?
  • And much more.

Click here to stream the interview. Or download the MP3.


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  • http://kiyoshimartinez.com/ Kiyoshi Martinez

    Interesting. CSM is aiming for a pageview number that’s about the same as what Gawker.com does in a month (just the standalone site, not the entire Gawker Media Network).

    I’m trying to find pageview reports for other newspaper Web sites, for comparison, but right now all I can find are reports from Nielsen that deal with unique visitors — not raw pageviews.

  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com pat

    @Kiyoshi,

    They get north of 1 million uniques right now (it has less than 2 million, but I don’t know the exact number). I think John says in the podcast.

    So, if they are trying to get 5-6 times the amount of page views, they might be aiming for 2-4 times the number of uniques each month. Hard to say exactly.

    It’s hard to say what is more important. Uniques tells you your overall reach, while page views tells you how deeply your reach goes with each person.

  • http://kiyoshimartinez.com/ Kiyoshi Martinez

    Yeah, I figured as much. I took the numbers at this link (June 2008 data):
    http://www.naa.org/blog/digitaledge/1/2008/06/Nielsen-Drudge-Report-Leads-Top-30-in-Sessions-per-Person-More-Newspapers-Join-List.cfm

    I took the number of sessions per user and multiplied that by the number of uniques and then resorted the list.

    In that list they’d be right in the middle, #15, if they hit their 25 mil pageviews mark. If they hit their lower end goal, they’d be slightly lower than all of the Hearst Newspapers combined. On the high end, they’d be just under the number of pageviews the Washington Post does right now.

    If we’re going in terms of uniques, they need to get around 16-18 on that list, which would put them on the level of Breitbart.com, Newsmax and all of the Gannett Newspapers (minus USAT) combined.

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