It’s not safe to assume newspapers will survive

From Melissa Worden:

>> Don’t count newspapers out, says Richard Siklos, Fortune editor-at-large: “What is often overlooked is where newspapers rank, at least for now, in overall spending in the pantheon of media industries fighting for dollars from consumers and advertisers. They are number one, ahead of TV networks, magazines, billboards, you name it. And it’s instructive that no legacy medium has been obliterated by a new technology: consumers simply adjust and adapt. In the era of DVDs and downloads, we still go the movies and listen to the radio.”?

Two reactions:

First, if technology were to remain static, meaning nothing would change from what it is today, half of the challenge to newspaper survival would be solved. (The second problem is that we’re not creating new readers and eventually current readers will all die). There is no doubt that newspapers today are in much better shape than conventional wisdom says, but this isn’t a static world.

Second, the assertion that new media doesn’t replace old is a shallow evaluation of history of media. Previous challengers to newspapers were more like newspapers than non like newspapers — they were all mass media, packaged goods media. Digital media is distributed media, it’s social media, it is personal media. It’s the opposite of mass media.

It’s important not to get too comfortable in our assumptions.

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  • http://www.tamark.ca/students/2007/10/28/sunday-squibs-47/ Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Sunday squibs

    […] It’s not safe to assume newspapers will survive. Howard Owens makes two valid points: newspaper, as businesses, are still strong but it would be a mistake to assume that’s going to always be the case. […]

  • http://www.melissaworden.com/blogs/xdegree Melissa Worden

    Howard, did you see this column that ran yesterday in the Boston Globe?: Will newspapers survive?, by Jeff Jacoby.

    He writes:

    But is the rise of the Internet really the cause of the exodus from newspapers? When I signed on 20 years ago, the slide in readership was already underway. Daily circulation was already falling. The absence of a newspaper habit among younger readers was already prompting concern. Today the crisis may be more acute, but the symptoms appeared before the World Wide Web did.

    So if the Internet isn’t at the root of newspapers’ woes, what is? I nominate not the computer screen, but the TV screen.

    Newspapers have been undone by the rise of television, which emphasizes stimulation over substance and fast-paced imagery over focused thought. A generation raised on TV mindlessness is a generation less equipped to read a newspaper – and therefore less interested in doing so. It has always struck me as crazy that newspapers devote so much ink to television, tempting readers to put down the paper and turn on the tube, from which so many of them don’t return.

    Interesting theory that I agree is part of the reason, but not the only. Changes in technology and reading/viewing habits seems more complex than to be able to pin it on one thing or development.

    It’s also interesting that a lot of commentary I see seem to have something other than newspapers to blame for print’s impending demise.

    So if we were to pick ONE reason — the root of all the woes — I’d like to nominate newspapers themselves. I think they’ve been undone because they weren’t forward thinking enough to let their industry evolve early on into digital/social media, as you described. (Or if they were, they didn’t stick with it long enough to become leaders and now are playing catch up.)

  • http://www.pressthink.org Jay Rosen

    I read that column too. Here’s what I wrote in an email to the author. No reply yet.

    To: Richard Sikios:

    I never know how to read these columns. Specifically, I do not understand how you–of course it’s not “you,” lots of journalists do this–can write an entire column attempting to debunk a particular claim, and provide no evidence or indication of who in particular believes the claim. It’s baffling how this became accepted practice. Why is it not necessary to identify which people and which statements you are arguing against, if your entire point is to push against the claim? Who says newspapers are going to soon start expiring and disappearing? (As opposed to decline, a claim you don’t disagree with, or morphing, which you also say is necessary.) And just to be clear about it: you do think it’s entirely fine–good column writing practice–to do a whole column debunking a claim that you never document, or quote anyone believing in?

    Who are you arguing with and where are they? Are you arguing with yourself, and your own tendency to write newspapers off? Are you reacting to things you heard around the proverbial water cooler? How am I supposed to know that, as a reader? Are you playing contrarian to a view so widespread that it doesn’t need documentation?

    I would love to know how these “debunking no one” columns get written.