A subject area that I've paid increased attention to of late is how traditional media companies – large media companies who predate the Internet era and are now online – are looking at ways to adapt and stay relevant in the ever evolving and revolving online world. Recently, I've looked at how Reuters is utilizing blogs and presented my theory for how Netscape has spearheaded the drive toward the future of news online, what I call hybrid social news. Finally, news came out last week that media jobs overall in the U.S. have shrunk by a whopping 88% in 2006 while, at the same time, it seems that blog traffic at top U.S. newspapers is exploding.
In the midst of all this change, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at The Economist, a venerable print magazine that is well known for publishing serious and intelligent economic and political news and analysis with a global focus. Like Reuters, The Economist has only relatively recently branched out to incorporate blogs with its online offerings. It is also trying to find the right balance in holding some of its content behind a paid subscription wall, putting it in league with the likes of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
I spoke with Daniel Franklin, The Economist's Executive Editor and head of online content, late last week by phone. Economist.com has recently made more of its content available to unpaid members, Daniel said, in an attempt to draw in new online readers while still maintaining a benefit for having a subscription to the print magazine.
Free Exchange espouses to be a forum where Economist journalists can interact with readers about economics. Interestingly, whereas most blogs today are personality driven, The Economist's blogs maintain the same anonymity as their other offerings (the print magazine has no bylines). So while Free Exchange has a bloggy look (time stamped pieces published from newest to oldest, with comments area on each post) the content reads more like traditional magazine copy.
So instead of a conversation between individual journalists and readers, Franklin and The Economist think of reader comments as more like "letters to the editor," a new realm for reader feedback. Indeed, looking at the few posts I could find with more than one or two comments, it seems that the anonymous poster "Economist.com" does not respond to reader comments. It should be noted that Free Exchange's commenters are highly literate and well mannered, a rare treasure to be cultivated within the blogosphere. It will be interesting to see if The Economist's blog authors will at some point be unleashed or prompted to interact directly with readers.