Newsrooms in Transition, Part II

 On Thursday we’ll have the privilege to visit with John Yemma, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, a century-old news organization based in Boston that specializes in international news. Under the leadership of Mr. Yemma, who rejoined the Monitor in 2008 after 20 years at The Boston Globe, the Monitor has transformed itself from a daily print newspaper to a “Web-first” digital newsroom with a weekly print edition. To prepare for his visit, we’re going to read about Mr. Yemma’s “Web-first” experiment and discuss it in class on Tuesday. For Tuesday’s class, read this Nieman Journalism Lab summary, “Chasing pageviews with values: How the Christian Science Monitor has adjusted to a web-first, SEO’d world” and also the full paper by journalism scholars Jonathan Groves and Carrie Brown-Smith. By 11:59 p.m. Monday, post a reaction (5 points) of 150 to 200 words as a comment to this post, answering one of the two following questions: 1) Do you consider the Christian Science Monitor’s recent transformation to be a success or tragedy for journalism? or 2) How does the Monitor’s transformation compare to the revolutions under way at the New York Times and Washington Post?


  1. 1) Do you consider the Christian Science Monitor’s recent transformation to be a success or tragedy for journalism?

    I would not label the CSM’s transformation as successful or tragic, but rather a combination of both. Many of the goals they set forth to accomplish as an organization they did surpass. However, one of their primary objectives, to offset the financial disparity that would occur in the upcoming years, was not achieved.
    Additionally, their new website first objective and the goals for their web based publication conflicted with their company mission, “to injure no man, but bless all mankind.” Which also included being an “alternative to sensationalism” and “not obsessed with conflict,” as one interviewer would suggest in the article.
    By focusing on immediacy and offering itself to participate in the hunt for new page views and increased traffic flow, CSM was subject to participating in sensational dialogue and conflict. Their employees also felt that they were producing “quantity over quality” and felt editors were more concerned about page views rather than content.
    As the company became more comfortable with the new transition, many still felt page views were most important, but they began to understand that change was necessary for their organization to sustain the times.
    The biggest success probably came from their new weekly magazine publication. As paid subscribers increased significantly.


    1. (the rest of my post wasn’t pasted for some reason)

      I believe this shows how flexibility and change in the newsroom is good for journalism. CSM was able to continue doing what they branded themselves to do within their weekly magazine publication, while also giving their web-based audience the news they desired.


  2. I think the Christian Science Monitor took a leap of faith that was necessary for the publication to remain in circulation and remain relevant. While I understand where many of the staffers interviewed are coming from – resisting change that will completely reshape the way the paper works – I think it was something that they should have done, and obviously it was successful. One thing that the Monitor seems to have that other papers don’t have is the reasons behind the news of the day, not just sensational headlines and stories about the latest gossip. I think that while they are getting a lot of “hits” and this has made people feel like they’re part of the “winning team” again, they should remember what makes their publication different from the rest of the newspapers out there. I think that going to a web first with a weekly publication is a smart move, it allows them to cater to their old audiences who like the physical paper, and new audiences who can access the information online any time of the day. I think that immediacy is important, but that they should focus on being able to give the same type of analytical information they used to give when they were solely print based in their new always-on/immediate model of business.


  3. Do you consider the Christian Science Monitor’s recent transformation to be a success or tragedy for journalism?

    The CSM’s recent transformation should be viewed as a huge success for Journalism. Not only did the CSM manage to transition from a primarily print-based paper to a web-based product, it was able to do it in a very small window of time considering the task that was at hand.

    The transition to web wasn’t only an intimidating task, but one that would have to be executed in uncharted waters; an undefined realm that neither the paper’s editorial leadership, nor the rest of its staffers, had any idea would exist when they first entered the world of news.

    The fact that the CSM was able to tackle such an immense task, and do so by remaining true to its legacy (meaningful solution-based journalism via the now new Weekly printed edition), is a direct example that shows how the nature of Journalism today squelches the notion that it’s a dieing practice.

    The Monitor’s leadership ability in the newsroom to make its staffers embrace the reality of what’s needed (and wanted) on the Web is THE success for Journalism that the the paper’s transformation represents. More or less, reality today is the web. The reality the paper first faced was that its numbers were down. So it eventually concocted a strategy to combat the issue–increase page views and ad revenue proportionally. Over a period of time, the page view issue was squelched. Although the paper hadn’t seen the desired goals with regard to the ad revenue, the fact that it was able to combat the first prong of the issue (page views) shows that they’ve placed a significant piece to the puzzle in the right place.

    So yes, the transformation has been successful, but the potential to perfect that success is up for grabs.


  4. 1) Do you consider the Christian Science Monitor’s recent transformation to be a success or tragedy for journalism?

    When hearing or reading about how newspapers or any type of publication makes the decision to be progressive and conform to the new ways of journalism, I would have not once it a tragedy but always a success.

    Although, there may be failures along the way as they (the newspapers, magazines, etc.) develop new ways for communicating their stories, I have reason to believe that their would be more failures if they did not try to conform. You will always win some, and lose some. However, if you never try you are going to lose them all because the people that trying are winning some.

    I personally think it is brilliant, as well as brave of the Christian Science Monitor to take on a challenge that threatens many well-developed publications all over the world. Especially with web revenue being hard to determine and control.


  5. Success or Tragedy for Journalism?

    Success! The Christian Science Monitor isn’t changing their journalism, they are simply changing the format in which it is delivered.

    Journalistic values at the CSM have always been a key part of their journalism, as the article and paper repeatedly point out. Sound reporting, bringing to light key issues, avoiding sensational stories–these are the key aspects CSM reporters seem to list as the primary praises of CSM journalism.

    The readings raise the question that faster web deadlines and SEO friendly stories are hurting those values, however, I believe good journalism and good journalists apply those values to any story they write, regardless of the deadline or format.

    A quote from an editor on page 34 of the paper really explains my point. The editor says he/she takes and SEO-friendly topic that the CSM may not have covered before and applies CSM values to the story. In other words, he/she asks what new information or perspective can I bring to this story? Then that reporter goes out and does a thorough and efficient job of reporting and telling that story. Weather the story is about Tiger Woods or the GOP Primary, the same reporting is taking place and their journalists are providing readers with the same thorough, relevant, and thought-provoking information.

    For over 100 years, the CSM has realized the importance and relevance of journalism in our society. Their recent transformation is simply a realization of how to present that journalism in a relavant form to TODAY’S society.


  6. Do you consider the Christian Science Monitor’s recent transformation to be a success or tragedy for journalism?

    Overall, the Christian Science Monitor’s transformation to a Web-first newsroom represents a success for journalism. While the resulting changes of the transition were not all positive, they were necessary, pulling the paper “out of the middle of the storm” at its “critical moment.”

    With metrics and page views taking a front seat in the decision-making process, the paper’s operations are “not as romantic as you’d like,” but the transformation is not a tragedy either. The Monitor’s Web numbers skyrocketed after the paper began to focus solely on the Web, “infus[ing] the newsroom with a new sense of relevance,” and most importantly, keeping the paper alive.

    Although staffers were originally skeptical about the change and concerned for the paper’s principles, many found the changes weren’t as threatening to their core journalistic values as originally thought — the Web was, in fact, compatible with the paper’s goals and values. Staffers also discovered that “more frequent stories did not necessarily mean less depth.”

    Transitioning to the Web gave the Monitor the opportunity to reinvent the paper, providing “opportunities for meaningful change.”

    “I feel like anything is possible. It’s injected some new vitality into my thinking,” one staffer said.

    By removing the “shackles” of the daily print edition, the Monitor was able to better serve its audience in terms of immediacy, interactivity and attentiveness. The elimination of the print edition allowed for increased relevance and innovation, allowing the Monitor to “get its edge back again.”

    Above all, the most meaningful and overwhelmingly positive effect of the Monitor’s transition was its increase in the number of people likely to read the paper’s content, making it “more influential and capable of having nationwide impact.”

    A staffer who had been with the paper for more than two decades said the “revival” was a “real morale booster.”

    “We had a strong product. But it didn’t have much reach,” he said.

    What’s the point of producing high-quality journalism if no one is going to read it? As stated in the Nieman Journalism Lab summary, “even the greatest journalism has little impact on the world when its readership is small and diminishing.”

    The Monitor overcame this challenge by embracing the Web and circulating its message to a larger audience, achieving its goal while still maintaining its journalistic values. And that is precisely why the Monitor’s transformation is a success for journalism.


    1. The Monitor’s story is simply a testament to capitalism. Technology changed when the Internet came along and the paper was forced to adapt. The paper could have stayed complacent and risked failure as profits plummeted. Rather, they chose to adapt to the online model that embraced ramped up readership figures, 25 million per month to be exact.

      As a result they’ve been successful monitoring what readers respond well to and have adapted accordingly. For example, they attempted a podcast that wasn’t well received and swiftly removed it from the product mix. Their success stemmed from measuring readership and reacting when needed. They really utilized the technology that they had at their disposal. With new software and a keen visionary understanding of what was possible with the four-pronged strategy, Yemma clearly saved the company by providing fresh, timely content to millions of readers. He knew the value of SEO to push views to the site. They also adopted comments and focused on ramping up Twitter usage. Transforming the culture was his greatest success though, staying true the core values. At the end of the day, they still need more ad revenue to match their high page traffic, but their success is far better than what it would have been had they not adapted.


  7. 1) Do you consider the Christian Science Monitor’s recent transformation to be a success or tragedy for journalism?
    I believe that the Christian Science Monitors transformation to web-based journalism and embracing the tools used to track online readership is a success. Even though there seems be division in the papers sections from conventional print and new online media, progress cannot be delayed or looked upon in a negative way. We learned Thursday that they had an all time high of 4 million page views in one day. This shows that the online readership has been going up and is on the right track to creating a strong business model for papers in the future, by utilizing advisors to increase paper profit.
    2) How does the Monitor’s transformation compare to the revolutions under way at the New York Times and Washington Post?
    The New York Times and Washington Post are both publications that also saw it fit to branch out and utilize online readership. Both of these publications under went cuts and had to make massive changes to their business models to adapt to todays Internet revolution. The Monitor (just like the New York Times and the Washington Post) are now charging for subscriptions to read their paper online. This is the way of the future and this is the way that all journalism will be heading to survive. By utilizing advertisements, subscriptions, and online readership, this is the necessity behind survival in the journalism industry. With technology advancing every year, it is important for these publications to adapt as well.


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