It’s been three years since Vin Crosbie (one of the smartest people in our industry) released his renowned essay on what newspapers need to do to survive. The article had a profound impact on the industry. Even if not all of his recommendations were implemented, the article marked a dramatic shift in the industry from post-dot-com-bubble-bust retrenching to taking online more seriously.
Now Crosbie is promising an equally profound essay on why newspaper sites have failed to reach critical mass. Right now, he’ll only tell us what is not wrong:
- The major problem isn’t ownership of newspapers by publicly traded corporations. Wall Street isn’t the problem. Newspaper readership has been steadily declining since the 1960s, well before most American newspapers were became owned by publicly traded companies. The layoffs and cutbacks that such companies are now making wouldn’t be made if readership and circulation were increasing. In other words, the layoffs and cutbacks are in reaction to the problem, not the cause of the problem. Yes, cutting newsroom staff doesn’t help increase readership and circulation, but it isn’t the cause of the decreases in readership and circulation.
- The major problem isn’t lack of ‘Citizen Journalism.’ It is true that most American newspapers lost touch with their readers and many also ‘talk down’ to the readers who remain. There are many worthwhile ‘citizen journalism’ experiments underway at some American newspapers, and the tools those use can be widely applied throughout the industry. However, American newspapers thrived for centuries without ‘citizen journalism’ and advocates of it should why and what changed.
- The major problem isn’t print’s lack of interactivity or multimedia. American newspapers thrived for centuries without interactivity or multimedia. Why and what changed?
- Nor is the major problem newsprint itself. People today aren’t forsaking paper, just what newspaper companies print on it.
As usual, Crosbie’s essay should make for interesting reading.