CJR Web Staff Quit Over Budget Cuts

The key staff members of the Columbia Journalism Review’s online presence resigned yesterday in protest over budget cuts.

The managing editor of CJRDaily.org, an online adjunct of The Columbia Journalism Review, and his deputy both quit yesterday after the dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism told them he was cutting the site’s budget nearly in half.

The dean, Nicholas Lemann, said in an interview that the amount of money raised for the Web site could not sustain the online staff, and he was using a portion of the magazine’s discretionary money for a direct-mail campaign to try to increase subscriptions to the print magazine. The journalism review, which comes out six times a year, has a circulation of 20,000.

Mr. Lemann said he was faced with the same quandary confronting most news organizations today — how to pay for an online staff when the site is free to readers. The Web site will soon start to sell advertising, hold conferences and sell archival material, he said, but even that revenue will not support the cost of the staff. He said he had been “out fund-raising every day,” but had not scraped together enough to finance the site at full strength. As a result, he said, he has decided that a campaign to gain subscribers for the print magazine, while expensive, will result in more income, which will help maintain an online staff that he said would still be bigger than that of most other magazines. “I have the same issue that everyone else in journalism has, and this is our best lunge toward a solution,” Mr. Lemann said.

The decision prompted the site’s top editors to quit, reducing the staff from eight to six. Both Steve Lovelady, 63, the managing editor, who had been managing editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and deputy Page 1 editor of The Wall Street Journal, and Bryan Keefer, 28, the assistant managing editor, resigned in protest yesterday. “It’s a fundamental policy dispute about the allocation of resources,” Mr. Lovelady said. “Nick has decided to spend the money on a direct-mail campaign for the magazine, in hopes of saving subscription revenue. To me, that sounds like something out of the 19th century. He’s taking the one, fresh, smart thing he has and gutting it.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I agree with Lovelady. The trend in the information business is to take the content online, with the dying print outlet increasingly marginalized. We live in a world where people expect their information to be available fast and in a digital format. A journal that goes out every two months, mostly to institutional and organizational subscribers rather than actual readers I’ll wager, is simply a dinosaur.

Obviously, a web site with no advertising or subscription revenue is not going to be able to sustain a staff. (I seem to recall something from high school economics about a requirement for capital to run a capitalist enterprise.) So, fix that. Surely, something with the prestige of the world’s leading J-School behind it can generate enough advertising revenue to sustain a staff of eight.

And yes:

Jay Rosen, a blogger and journalism professor at New York University, said the move was a “strategic error” and that the review should drop its print version to reduce costs and go entirely online. “I’m sure their current subscribers want it in print, but you have to look at your potential subscribers,” he said. “Since the profession is going toward the Web, in the long run, that’s the smarter move.”

Indeed, one of the main expenses of maintaining a print publication is the enormous cost of paper, printing, and shipping. Bandwidth is virtually free by comparison.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I wonder if they did any sort of customer survey that said they could get an online subscription for the same price or the print subscription, but not both, which would they go for.

    Even if their main subscriber base is libraries (which tends to want to have things on shelves) the modern library would probably be fine having all the issues available on line for some sort of a library patron accessible means. Perhaps a double password system that would let the librarian hand out temporary passwords for the equivalent of “checking out” the magazine, but keep password control so the person checking out the temporary password couldn’t change the password and let no one else check it out or have two people “check out” the web site at the same time.

  2. Liandra says:

    That’s a major problem of on line media. And it also affects paper media cause how will buy newspapers when they can read the same stuff on line for free.