Magazines and online journalism: answers to a student questionnaire

Lucy Hart, a final year journalism degree student at South East Essex College has emailed me some questions. I always like to post the answers on my blog in case other students are thinking of asking the same. Here they are:

How has online journalism affected magazines over the past few years? It is clear that they are constantly adding additional features to their websites, such as blogs and forums.

The web (rather than online journalism) has affected magazines enormously, just as it has every part of the media. However, as magazine sales have not suffered the same across-the-board declines as newspapers, the changes have not been as pronounced, and they have reacted differently.

Magazines have always been about communities of interest and this translates naturally to the web – forums are an obvious example, while other publishers are exploring social networking. Blogs also naturally match the chatty, personality-driven nature of much mag writing.

The web also allows magazines to cover news online on an ongoing basis – something they were unable to do particularly well in print due to long lead-in times between copy deadlines and printing, and the fact that most magazines were on the shelves for a full four weeks.

Publishers generally are aware of changing consumption patterns in their audiences, and with a greater tradition of creative launches and relaunches magazine publishers have undertaken some of the more interesting experiments in online publishing (as opposed to online journalism, where newspapers have made the running). Dennis’ online-only Monkey magazine has been a particular success story, and they’re following that up with Gizmo. Natmags’ almost identical Jellyfish, however, was a flop. Future Publishing, meanwhile, have done some interesting integration of database technology with their magazines.

See my bookmarks at for more articles on developments in this area.

Do you think that online journalism is the only way forward for magazines to attract readers?

I think journalism is one of the ways forward for magazines to attract readers. The fact that readers are increasingly going online for their content and community suggests that magazine journalism should be online for magazines to retain and attract readers.

But journalism is only part of what magazines are about. Magazines have not suffered as much as newspapers – on the whole – because they are not ‘tomorrow’s fish and chip paper’. People collect them, buy binders for them, and form relationships with them. They are luxury items, often glossy, sometimes aspirational, part of a lifestyle. If you print an edition with forty different covers, some will go out and buy every one.

It’s worth noting that some magazine sectors in particular – teen and music magazines, for instance – have really suffered, not because the journalism was bad, but because readers were able to get what they wanted from online sources, or because their media consumption patterns changed. People used to buy a music magazine to read the reviewers whose taste they trusted – but with mp3s, MySpace and peer recommendation it’s now easy to listen to any track you want, or to get recommendations from people who share your tastes.

What do you do? Well, NME has reinvented itself as an online community, mp3 and ticket shop and radio station, while teen mags are reinventing themselves as social networks with mobile features. So a major part of the way forward for magazines is about that culture and community that surrounds it, changing ways of communicating (e.g. mobile) and how you service that online.

I was wondering if you could advise me of any new technological software that journalists have had to learn to use and adapt to, to keep up with the new media changes?

Many magazine journalists have had to get to grips with some sort of content management system (CMS) to post stories to their website. Beyond that, most don’t have a great deal of experience with software – website development is left to technical staff.

Some will be using services like Twitter (microblogging) or run a personal blog using WordPress, Blogger or one of the other services (also content management systems). Some will use Facebook’s more advanced features; likewise Flickr and YouTube. Some will use podcast software. Some will be using audio and/or editing software like Audacity, Adobe Premiere or Audition, FinalCut Pro, Microsoft Movie Maker and even Avid. Some will use image editing software like Photoshop. A few will have taught themselves Dreamweaver and/or Flash, and even fewer will have learned some basic programming in PHP. But on the whole most of these people have done so through curiosity rather than necessity.

On a commercial basis, is online journalism another way for magazines to make money from advertising? Or are they simply keeping up with all the other media organisations?

It’s always about the money. But it’s not as simple as ‘another way to make money from advertising’. A large part of it is defensive: “If we don’t do it, someone else will, and steal our readers and our advertising.” So in that sense it is keeping up with other media organisations (including online startups). A more aggressive reason is to do it to steal your competitor’s market share: “If we do it, we can steal their readers and their advertising.” Often the two motivations are combined.

It’s also often a way to cut costs. By not having to pay for printing or distribution, or a cut to the newsagent, magazines like Monkey can save an enormous amount of money. And projects like Jellyfish can flop without costing as much as they would have done if 100,000 unsold copies were lying on the shelves of WHSmith.

And as I’ve said, it’s not really about online journalism. It’s about an online presence, which is lots of things including online journalism. Magazines seem to understand better than newspapers that it’s about servicing readers and providing a place for them to do their thing, rather than just shoving content at them.

4 thoughts on “Magazines and online journalism: answers to a student questionnaire

  1. Pingback: Magazines and online journalism: answers to a student questionnaire | Business Online

  2. Pingback: event mechanics » Blog Archive » Magazines and Online Journalism

  3. Pingback: Médias 2.0: ressources « pintiniblog

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