The Christian Science Monitor plans major changes in April 2009 that are expected to make it the first newspaper with a national audience to shift from a daily print format to an online publication that is updated continuously each day.
The changes at the Monitor will include enhancing the content on CSMonitor.com, starting weekly print and daily e-mail editions, and discontinuing the current daily print format.
This new, multiplatform strategy for the Monitor will "secure and enlarge the Monitor's role in its second century," said Mary Trammell, editor in chief of The Christian Science Publishing Society and a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors. Mrs. Trammell said that "journalism that seeks to bless humanity, not injure, and that shines light on the world's challenges in an effort to seek solutions, is at the center of Mary Baker Eddy's vision for the Monitor. The method of delivery and format are secondary" and need to be adjusted, given Mrs. Eddy's call to keep the Monitor "abreast of the times."
While the Monitor's print circulation, which is primarily delivered by US mail, has trended downward for nearly 40 years, "looking forward, the Monitor's Web readership clearly shows promise," said Judy Wolff, chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society. "We plan to take advantage of the Internet in order to deliver the Monitor's journalism more quickly, to improve the Monitor's timeliness and relevance, and to increase revenue and reduce costs. We can do this by changing the way the Monitor reaches its readers."
The coming changes, over two years in the planning stage, occur at a time of fundamental transition in news publishing and turn the page on a remarkable chapter in American journalism. The Monitor, which celebrates its 100th anniversary on Nov. 25, was launched at the direction of church founder Eddy, who had been the subject of a searing legal and journalistic attack by Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. Officials of her church had a professional news organization up and running in just over 100 days.
In the Monitor's first edition, Mrs. Eddy defined the scope and tone of the newspaper's journalistic mission, writing that it should "injure no man, but bless all mankind."
Since that time, generations of editorial and publishing workers have devoted themselves to the Monitor. While Mrs. Eddy's paper was initially greeted with skepticism, the Monitor won respect from its journalistic peers; it has been awarded seven Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other journalistic accolades. Three Monitor editors have been elected president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Monitor editor John Yemma said that while the methods of publishing Monitor journalism have evolved over 100 years, the underlying motives and approach remain constant.
"In the Monitor's next century, as with its first century, it is committed to finding answers to the world's most important problems, asking the questions that matter and getting the story behind the news - all of which is staying true to Mrs. Eddy's unselfish, original vision," he said. "The Monitor's role is right there in its name. It's to monitor the world, to keep an eye on the world from a perspective of hope."
Mrs. Wolff cited three goals that drove what she called "our evolving strategy" for the Monitor:
• Producing a website that can be updated 24/7 and delivered instantaneously "better fulfills Mrs. Eddy's original vision" for the Monitor to be daily than does a five-day-a-week paper delivered by mail with frequent delays.
• Focusing resources on the fast-growing Web audience for news rather than on the economically troubled daily newspaper industry "increases the Monitor's reach and impact." The Monitor's website currently attracts about 1.5 million visitors a month.
• Eliminating the major production and distribution costs of a daily newspaper will allow the Monitor to "make progress toward achieving financial sustainability" while supporting its global news resources.
Attaining these goals over the next five years would provide stability and continuity for Monitor journalism over the long run, said Mr. Yemma, who took office as the Monitor's editor in July after holding a number of editorial positions at the Boston Globe. Throughout the news industry, he added, publications are struggling with the profound disruption brought on by the Internet and the rising costs of newsprint and transportation.
The Monitor has required a subsidy from the Christian Science church for most of its history. In the current budget year ending April 30, the Monitor in all forms is forecast to lose $18.9 million. The church will provide a subsidy of $12.1 million from its general fund, with earnings from the Monitor Endowment Fund and donor contributions to the Monitor's operating fund covering the balance. The changes in strategy are projected gradually to decrease the Monitor's net operating loss to $10.5 million in 2013, so the church general fund subsidy will be $3.7 million, said managing publisher Jonathan Wells.
"Changes in the industry - changes in the concept of news and the economics underlying the industry - hit the Monitor first," given its relatively small size and the complex logistics required for national distribution, Mr. Wells said. "We are sometimes forced to be an early change agent."
All three Monitor publications – website, weekly print edition, and daily e-mail edition – will be produced by the same editorial staff. The Monitor will continue to operate at its current level of international and domestic coverage, with bureaus throughout the globe, and a strong presence in Washington. Yemma and Wells said these bureaus represent a distinct competitive advantage for the Monitor at a time when other news organizations are cutting back on staff coverage from outside their circulation regions.
"A modest reduction" in the Monitor's 95-person editorial staff is likely, once the transition to the new product line-up is completed, Yemma said.
A new design for the Monitor's website is being phased in. It is the first step in what Yemma said would be "a much more robust Web presence." In addition to frequent updating with the latest news seven days a week, the plan is for the site to become a portal where editors will point visitors to other areas on the Web that are attempting journalism in the same spirit as the Monitor. Yemma said he wants to encourage much more two-way conversation between readers and Monitor staffers to "build a community of people who care about the values the Monitor stands for."
The Monitor's new weekly print edition will launch in April and be priced at $3.50 per copy or $89 for a year's subscription. A full-price subscription to the current daily print edition is $219. "We hope the people who subscribe to the daily will shift to the weekly and that many more who may not have had time to read the daily will find the weekly appeals to them," Yemma said.
Produced on high grade paper in a 10" by 12" size, the weekly will feature an in-depth cover story on a major global issue or trend; brief dispatches from Monitor correspondents around the globe; the best photographs of the week; special sections on innovation, the environment, and personal finance; as well as Home Forum essays and a single religious article, as has been the Monitor's practice since 1908.
Like the new print weekly, the new daily electronic edition will be offered by subscription. It will be a multipage PDF file sent by e-mail to subscribers Monday through Friday. The format makes it convenient for subscribers to print out the daily e-news edition at home. This publication will contain an original column by Monitor editors, the top Monitor stories of the day, links to other reports on the Monitor's website, and the daily religious article. Pricing has not been announced.
Reaching the improved financial targets in the Monitor's new business plan will depend on significant growth in Web traffic and on current subscribers to the daily paper transferring their subscriptions to the weekly edition and the daily e-mail edition, Wolff said. "If you are a current subscriber, we ask you to stay with us. If you do not subscribe, we hope you will subscribe to the Monitor now as it embarks on its second century."
This is a period of extreme financial difficulty for all news organizations. New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., for instance, was asked at a conference in California on Oct. 22 whether the Times would be a print product in 10 years. "The heart of the answer must be (that) we can't care," Sulzberger said. He added that he expects print to be around for a long time but "we must be where people want us for our information."
The cost, delay, and waste generated by daily print are huge hindrances, said Yemma. The Monitor can lead the way in providing news primarily online.
"The Christian Science Monitor finds itself uniquely positioned to take advantage of developing technologies, market conditions, and news consumption habits that can dramatically increase its relevance, reach, and utility; place it on a sound financial footing; and allow it to pursue its unique mission of providing global perspective and illuminating the human dimension behind international news," Yemma noted.