Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The decline and fall of the newsprint empire

Unlike many who see new media as a replacement for, rather than a compliment to, traditional media, I take no joy in the collapse of the American newspaper industry. Newspapers have been way too slow to adapt to changing times. The 1950s model of a newspaper was to be all things to all people. But in 2009, newspapers can no longer compete with TV for immediacy, with the cable for infotainment, with ESPN for sports and with the internet for all of the above.

The mile wide-inch deep model no longer works. I can go to a million different places if I want analysis of President Obama's proposals or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the comics or even a good crossword puzzle. But if I want news of what's happening in my hometown on a daily basis, there's really only one. Local newspapers need to focus on what makes them most unique: LOCAL.

They also need to focus more on news. Real news. In my local Post-Star, the most relevant reporting often gets relegated to online blogs, such as interviews with 'third party' candidates and stories about from where legalized bribes (often referred to as campaign contributions) are coming from. But you can rest assured that public urination and alcohol stings will always make the more widely read print edition.

Given newspapers' failure to adapt to changing times, it's hard to say the pain hasn't been largely self-inflicted. That doesn't mean I welcome it. Newspapers have the potential to play a central role not only in investigative reporting, but in fostering some sense of communal dialogue in a Balkanized, hyperpersonalized society. That's how newspapers like to think of themselves and that's how many used to be. Newspapers are failing because they are not/no longer living up to that potential and consumers are thus looking elsewhere. Unlike in the past, they now have a lot more options.

Speaking of self-inflicted, I see that the print edition of The New York Times has been jacked up to $2 daily and $6 on Sunday. I'm left to wonder whether massive price hikes are the best business model in an industry where consumers are already fleeing in droves.

Update: Washington Post columnist Michael Kinsley speculates on the future of newspapers. American Public Media's The Story did a piece on the demise of Denver's Rocky Mountain News.

No comments: