Does CJR report tell us anything new?

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 The Columbia Journalism Review just released a report called "Magazines and Their Web Sites".  It's possible to draw a conclusion from the findings that magazine websites are more likely to be profitable if they put "web guys" in charge and don't worry much about things like copy editing or fact checking.  Well, you might think that if you confused correlation with causality.

Here are some findings that lead me to believe that some people in the business should have been consulted when developing the questions:

"Web site traffic is a much more strongly correlated with (website) profitability than print magazine circulation"  

Well, yes, and my weight loss is much more strongly correlated with how much I exercise than with how much my wife exercises.

"The Web sites of weekly magazines were more than twice as likely to be profitable than those of quarterlies"

The web is an insatiable content monster that requires daily feeding. Updating any media website quarterly is a mind-boggling concept, and is unlikely to result in profit.

"Magazine Web sites are more likely to be profitable when content decisions are made by an independent Web editor"

The real conclusion behind this and several related findings is that magazines that focus and invest more in their websites (i.e., dedicated staff) are more likely to have profitable websites.

"Google Analytics is far and away the online metric named most often as most helpful to magazine Web sites"

I was ready to write this finding off as a copyediting gaffe (whoops!) until I saw it repeated later in the report.  A small thing, but it suggests an academic distance from the practice (not theory) of actually using web analytics tools.

None of the report's findings are surprising to those of us in the trenches. However, the author's proposal (starting on page 40 of the report) for a 5 part agenda to discuss the implications of the findings are worth reading.  

The agenda items are:

  1. Staffing
  2. Standards and practices
  3. The broken business model
  4. Technology and social media
  5. Mission statements

We are working on an "unconference" to have these kinds of conversations with industry leaders in the coming months.

 

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