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#DigitalSkeptic: New Media News Bets Are No Solutions

Stocks in this article: WPO

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Listen carefully to the combined editorial tzars of The Associated Press, The New York Times, Bloomberg and CNBC and you'll find we're not the only ones with questions about the news business in the Information Age.

"What used to be the toughest thing we did was creating content," Mark Hoffman, the president of CNBC, told about 250 news professionals and students on a warm fall night this month. But these days, "Getting people to that content is some sort of advanced calculus that is very tough to figure out."

Hoffman was speaking at a conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. After 15 some-odd years of trying, investors would expect this kind of mainstream media meet-up to be the last place to hear the news business is still in beta testing.

But it is.

"There is a large and potentially growable audience," was about as specific as Mark Thompson, president and CEO of The New York Times Co. (NYT), would get. "Our challenge is how to figure out -- given that the audience is there -- the path between us and them."

To be fair, these execs do make a case that adapting to the Digital Age has not been the near-impossible lunar mission it seemed back in the Clinton era. "It has taken us a while flapping around in that territory," is how Kathleen Carroll, senior vice president and executive editor at The Associated Press summed it up. And overall she's optimistic that the traditional news business is more customer focused, more conversational, shorter and more accessible.

But even given that good news about news, it's remarkable what these heavies said still lies ahead for the news business:

There is the huge gap between the fat profits of old-line services such as TV news and the razor-thin margins of Web news. There are the challenges of paywalls, free Web content and the stresses of emerging global markets.

"The more local we become, the more international we become," explained Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief at Bloomberg News. Winkler said global regionalization rapidly turns into a tricky dance of mastering new languages and logic.

And all that must be accomplished in a digital world where the fundamentals of success are not yet fully developed. "Counting the number of people that have accessed any piece of content, a program, a piece of video or story," Hoffman said, "is as imprecise as it has ever been."

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