WisBusiness: Milwaukee journalists discuss social networking, future of printed page

By Samantha Hernandez

For WisBusiness.com

A trio of Milwaukee journalists discussed social media, making money online and when they think print publications might become a thing of the past during an event in Milwaukee today.

The panelists — Chuck Melvin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s business editor; Mark Sabljak, publisher for the Business Journal of Milwaukee, and Bruce Murphy, editor for Milwaukee Magazine — said the Web has given them the opportunity to reach readers in more ways and with more immediacy, but also said making money online can be a challenge.

Melvin said that the Journal Sentinel is leading in keeping readers up-to-date via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

“We have this opportunity to reach so many more people with social networking,” Melvin said. But the paper’s print product is still its “bread and butter,” he said.

Sabljak said that his newsroom does use Twitter, but until he can see how these forms of social networking will pay his costs he would rather have his journalists chasing stories than posting to Twitter. As publisher, making money is a top concern and right now newsprint still pays the bills.

“I can’t be an antique collector,” Sabljak acknowledged, regarding the potential for a switch to online-only product. “I love print, but I also love online,” he said, adding that if he could find a way support his paper and staff on online he would make the change.

Murphy said taking Milwaukee Magazine to the web has allowed the magazine to be a lot more immediate with its information in areas of shopping, dining and politics.

Advertisers are still adjusting to the online ad climate, Murphy said.

“Journalists are guilty of dragging their feet when it comes to figuring out a new media,” Murphy said, adding that advertisers have the same problem when it comes to putting more advertisements online. When placing print ads, total readership is a key metric for advertisers because every copy of a publication could result in an ad view. But online, advertisers know exactly how often people view their advertisements, and those numbers are often smaller than the print numbers they’re used to.

Murphy referred to print magazines as a “bed, bathroom, beach” format that can be taken anywhere. The Internet has yet to duplicate this portability, Murphy said.

The entire panel agreed that within 10 years the face of print media would change. Melvin said that it would probably be an electronic device that would be the end of print. He pointed to some major newspapers offering subscriptions for the Amazon Kindle, a wireless reading device.

The panel met during a Public Relations Society of America luncheon meeting at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee to discuss the future of print media in an ever-changing media landscape. The luncheon was part of a daylong conference sponsored by the PRSA. Crystal McNeal of the Blood Center of Wisconsin moderated the discussion.