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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Cannibalization: Can newspapers and the Web coexist?

This was supposed to be a short post. My goal was to drive some traffic to the introductory video I put together when I came to Ohio University last fall. But as I watched it again to make sure everything worked, I couldn’t up but think about the question it poses and how it relates to the current media environment. Does a newspaper’s Web site steal audience from its printed counterpart?

As you can see from the video, I reside decidedly on the “no” side. As Guido Stempel and his colleagues at Ohio University found in 2004, most of a newspapers’ readers use the Web and print together. They are not mutually exclusive. But I wouldn’t be a good researcher if I didn’t ask myself if those findings are dated. Has something changed in the last six years that has changed the relationtionship?

The New York Times seems to think so. Recent posts and discussions about how much the Times will charge for its upcoming iPad edition pit the traditional print journalists and editors against the “Web guys” or the “trucker hat guys” as my friend Brian Hammond so eloquently called them after he first started working there. The print proponents’ central argument is cannibalization. If we don’t charge as much for the iPad edition as the print edition, we’ll lose all our print readers to the pad.

The first question I’d ask them would be why would they care? Readers are readers, and even if you are just moving them from one platform to another, at least you’re keeping them. Second, I don’t know what’s going into iPad development. I only hope it’s interactive and dynamic or this entire discussion won’t matter, but I’m betting putting all the content in an iPad ebook is a heck of a lot cheaper than printing a newspaper and delivering it to me. Shouldn’t this saving somehow factor into the price I pay?

It was also really fun for me to hear the tech side of this debate, not from the Times, but from Leo LaPorte and his guests on This Week in Tech. I know I’m an episode behind, but LaPorte, who knows a thing or two about technological adoption, and his guests made it clear they would pay up to $10 a month for the Times on the iPad if it used the device’s interface and its connectivity.

The Times staff have been Web innovators for a long time. For example, I loved today’s interactive feature with Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win an Academy Award as best director. I can read about her genius all I want, but I don’t really see it clearly until I watch a clip from her best and latest movie, The Hurt Locker, and hear her dissect the scene. That’s what I’d pay for on the iPad. That’s something I can’t get anywhere else.

It still remains to be seen what cannibalization effect if any the iPad will have on the Times. In fact, I’d love to replicate Stempel’s 2004 to see if the complimentary relationship between print and the Web still holds. The more I study online journalism, however, the more I think Web can compliment print and vice versa if reporters and editors want them to. They just have to make the connections. Surviving in this changing media landscape requires creating more complimentary relationships, not less.

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