The study also goes out of its way to put its findings in context. Therman and Myllylahti compare Taloussanomat’s traffic numbers to the Web performances of two large UK outlets that offer both print products and Web sites: The Guardian and the Times of London. Both outlets saw a rise in uniques, the report notes—the Guardian, by 32 percent, and the Times, by 60 percent—between November 2007 and August 2008. And another Finnish financial-news outlet, Kauppalehti, saw an 18 percent rise in uniques during that same period. Taloussanomat’s uniques, on the other hand, declined 0.26 percent.
Perhaps even more interestingly, the City University report’s findings also hint at the fallibility of a core assumption about what happens when newspapers shed the weight of their presses: that their newfound liberation from print will give way to innovation. But at the online-only Taloussanomat, Thurman and Myllylahti found, its remaining journalists tended to adhere to print traditions and schedules even in the absence of print itself: filing stories at 5 p.m., rather than throughout the day; adhering to print standards for story length and formatting; and generally exhibiting reluctance to file short, breaking-news stories to the Web. (They tended to view such updates, the report explains, as “incomplete.”)
Yet, somewhat paradoxically, the journalists’ desire to feed the Web with new content made them less likely than they were before the online move to go out and do reporting—and more likely to stay at their desks and rely on agency copy for that content. (In fact, the study found, 80 percent of Taloussanomat’s stories come from news agencies and other sources.) Thurman and Myllylahti also documented a greater consumer focus at the online-only Taloussanomat, with more sensational and celebrity-focused stories than the site featured when the outlet offered a print product.
And—even more damning to the Web-begets-innovation assumption—the study found that Taloussanomat journalists, despite the freedom offered by their Web-only reincarnation, didn’t innovate with multimedia tools.
The lack of innovation that the Thurman/ Myllylahti study found at Taloussanomat could have myriad causes—not all of them, necessarily, transferable to other news outlets. Crowd dynamics being what they are, there’s no way to know, for sure, what factors contributed to Taloussanomat’s apparent print-mentality-writ-Web—or, for that matter, whether those factors could prove a similar hindrance to innovation at other news outlets. Content is king, that old standby, still applies. And content depends on the journalists who create it.