上周，《尤金纪事卫报》（Eugene Register-Guard）在其网站上发表了一篇关于当地制图师大卫•艾莫斯的报道。文章讲述的是艾莫斯一度债台高筑，直到网络杂志《Slate》在1月份发文，大加赞扬他的绘图才能。现在，他的地图卖疯了，部分原因是《Slate》杂志给出了他网站的链接——艾莫斯地理（Imus Geographics）。然而，《尤金纪事卫报》自己并没有提供艾莫斯网站的链接，只是在文章末尾添上了《Slate》杂志和其他媒体相关报道的链接，而且这些也差不多是后来才加上去的东西。这个案例非常耐人寻味。
皮尤研究中心卓越新闻项目（Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism）发布的一份最新研究报告称，转战网络之后获得成功的报纸之所以寥若星辰，部分原因在于它们的“文化惯性（Cultural inertia）”。提供报道对象的网站链接这类行为看似小事，但也是这种惯性的一种体现。总的问题是，许多报纸对待互联网的态度与《尤金纪事卫报》处理链接的方式如出一辙——完全是马后炮。我在这里并非单挑小小的《尤金纪事卫报》说事。作为世界上最好的报纸网站之一，《纽约时报》（The New York Times）的网站依然把某些短语链接到它自己的“专题页面”，这有时让习惯于点击链接去阅读另一篇文章或相关短语确切含义的读者无所适从。很多时候，人们在这种情况下希望看到的并不是什么专题页。
Last week, the Eugene Register-Guard published an article online about David Imus, a local mapmaker who was buried in debt until the online magazine Slate praised his cartography gifts in January. Now he's selling maps like crazy, thanks in part to Slate linking to his site, Imus Geographics. The Register-Guard, however, did not provide a link to the site, and added links to Slate and other media outlets' stories only at the bottom of the article, almost as an afterthought. It was a case in point of sorts.
"Cultural inertia" is responsible in part for the fact that so few newspapers are succeeding online, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Seemingly small things like linking to the sites that are the subjects of articles is but one manifestation of this inertia. The overall problem is that too many newspapers are still treating the Internet like the Register-Guard treats links -- as an afterthought. Which is not to single out the smallish Register-Guard. The New York Times, one of the best newspaper sites in the world, still often links certain phrases to its own "topic pages," which sometimes throws off people who are used to links taking them to another article or something that will actually explain precisely what the phrase is referring to. Often, that's not a topic page.
Cultural inertia, though, is just one problem. Economics lie at the heart of the continued shrinking of newspapers and other "old media" -- revenues from online ads just aren't making up for the loss of print-based ad revenues. The study says newspapers on average make up just $1 online for every $7 they lose on the print side as advertisers bolt and rates decline. The findings, while not precisely scientific, were gleaned from a survey of six companies that own a total of 121 newspapers. They shared the data on condition that they remain anonymous. The New York Times pronounced the findings "grim."
And so they are, but there are some rays of hope -- though they are dependent on newspaper companies casting off the inertia. Just 40% of the papers surveyed target and customize their ads based on reader behavior, for example. And the number of print-focused ad-sales people at the participating newspapers outnumbered digital-focused reps by about 3-to-1. The papers that are focusing more on digital tend to be doing better than those that are slow to make the transition.
The usual challenges of converting a "legacy" business to a new age are apparent. "One involves the difficulty of changing the behavior of people trained in the ways of a mature and monopolistic industry," Pew notes. "Still another is the unavoidable fact that the part of the newspaper industry that is growing, digital, continues to provide only a small part of the revenue, while the part that is shrinking, print, provides most of the money -- a paradox that is difficult to navigate and hard to resist. One pervasive feeling is that 15 years into the digital transition, executives still feel they are in the early stages of figuring out a how to proceed."