I saw the following headline and expected some treatise on why newspapers are still going strong and have nothing to fear but fear itself, something along the lines of Mark Twain’s famous line, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
But J. McGuire never quite gets around to assuring us that newspapers won’t die eventually. He notes some positive signs and some negative trends, but draws no real conclusion.
His main point seems to be that if newspapers die, you’ll get more celebrity gossip in your media.
If you are disgusted about the obsession with Anna Nicole and Britney, reflect for a minute on how much coverage of those two stories you saw in The Arizona Republic, the East Valley Tribune and the New York Times. The answer is not much.
No matter how much you enjoy beating up the print media, and no matter how many times the newspaper industry shoots itself in the foot with plagiarism, fabrication and conflict-of-interest scandals, for the past 50 years, American newspapers have been our newsgathering stalwarts.
No reasonable person is arguing that newspapers are unimportant to society. But some of the best newspapers in the country are being hammered by circulation slides and declining revenue. So if people no longer feel compelled to pick up newspapers, what do we do to protect newspaper-style journalism?
One answer might be to build better newspaper web sites, so we can increase audience enough to generate enough revenue so we can keep the whole thing going.
If we collectively put more effort into the web, I see these potential outcomes:
- We figure out a way to make enough money (currently, no newspaper.com does) online to pay for our current news operations and then those news operations have a safe place to land once the print product dies;
- The print product never dies, though maybe declines, but our robust and money-generating web operations help offset print loses, even to the point of boosting overall revenue, making investors (and all for-profit papers have investors) happy and providing for additional news-operations resources;
- We’re doomed. Because of the efficiencies of web advertising, downward price pressure continues to suck the life out of ad-based revenue models and we can never generate enough revenue, in which case newspapers will die with or without robust web operations.
So, two out of three ain’t bad. In other words, we have nothing to lose by building innovative, aggressive, locally-focused web operations, and everything to gain.
I hope a lot of newsroom people read this, because it’s on your shoulders, too. You need to be part of the solution, not a member of the complainers’ choir.