Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Newspapers are going extinct!

March 2, 2009

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My Sunday paper is as thin as Tuesday’s. One cup of coffee and I’m done. I remember when it was so heavy I needed two hands to carry it.

Newspapers are dying. Few would argue the point. The death of Denver’s 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News is only the latest to fall. What’s alarming is how fast. Ten years ago we debated whether newspapers were in jeopardy, pointing at the explosion of alternate media.

Now it is not if newspapers will die merely when. In cities where there are two or more daily papers, the weaker of the two go first. Yet, more and more it appears the survivor is merely postponing the inevitable. In Chicago, the “Trib” and “Sun” are shrinking before my eyes, losing pages of advertising followed by editorial. Sections fall off. It is as if they are wasting away, starving to death, which, of course, they sort of are. (Sniff. I delivered both papers as a kid, in the high rises along Lake Shore Drive.)

As indicated, most attribute this fatal decline to evaporating advertising revenue, which is accurate. Who uses classifieds when there’s craigslist or ebay? The Internet is a superior model in every way, for buyer and seller.

But there is another reason, albeit related. Newspapers have lost much of their relevancy. With instant info delivery systems so prevalent now, why wait for the morning or evening edition? And it’s not just the news that got old on paper; everything did: entertainment, sports and, yes, advertising.

Fresh information is no longer the providence of newspapers. Perhaps analysis and other forms can prosper there but not updates and scoops. For this reason, in a recent column, the Chicago Tribune’s media expert, Phil Rosenthal reported that as early as 1979, certain sages were predicting the necessary evolution of news media to digital formats. Failure to do so would result in the death of the newspaper business. In other words, we saw it coming.

I used to think newspapers would be around as long as men needed something to read in the bathroom. It’s not like we can bring our laptop in there, right? Wrong. New technologies like Kindle and the Iphone make information gathering and receiving possible almost anywhere, even in the throne room.

Advertising was always part of the journalism department in college. How ironic, then that our former “host” is wasting away like this. The good news is that the news isn’t necessarily disappearing; it’s just moving into a more fashionable neighborhood.

A final cryptic note: It’s not newspapers that are dying but newspaper readers. Maybe you’re dad still reads the box scores but look at you. You’re reading a blog.

12 Responses to “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Newspapers are going extinct!”

  1. I agree they’re as good as gone. Still, without the watchdog function of newspapers, our democracy is weakened. The hard work of investigative journalism–never done very well if at all by television, radio, the blogosphere or any other medium–has long come from the ranks of print. Whether it’s a Washington Post bringing down a corrupt administration or your local paper keeping an eye out for daily malfeasance in city government, the service newspapers provide will not be easily replaced. Under a new revenue model, there’s zero evidence that transitioning the brands from paper to electronic distribution means the oversight will continue.

  2. adchick said

    I used to get a Tribune delivered every day in Hooterville. With all their budget cuts, they no longer did a daily delivery…so I had them mail it. But it was a week late and not worth it, soo….I miss the tactile feeling of the stock, the ink on my fingers, and the reassuring motion of turning a page. I am old, but I am adapting. I can still read saucy John Kass and gentle Garrison Keillor on line. I am finding almost TOO much information here…the question is how to make my laptop on the long Harley weekends???? Now off to work.

  3. SRP said

    William-

    “there’s zero evidence that transitioning the brands from paper to electronic distribution means the oversight will continue.”

    Sad but true. I only intimated that transitioning would keep journalism alive…but I suspect the quality will nosedive with 24/7 mentality.

  4. In 1776, the way the average American learned about the Declaration of Independence was when it was published in a newspaper.

    In the fullness of time, it will become clear that newspapers have been an indispensable component of our society.

    While most people are treating the disappearance of newspapers as just another curious consequence of internet connectedness, it is nothing short of a disaster for America and for democracy.

  5. elijahP said

    The amazing counter story here is that more people are reading news stories and commentary than ever before, by far. Readership of newspaper content is up and across most demographics. The publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer made this point last week at the same time they filed for bankruptcy. Obviously, what the news industry has failed to do is properly monetize readership in the interweb age.

    The day of reckoning will be when newspapers and magazines can no longer afford to send correspondents to Baghdad, London, even Wall St. or D.C. Who will report on the stories from multiple POV that will inform our democracy. The bloggers?

  6. Van Gould said

    News(papers) are going extinct, but I am excited about the future of journalism. I think there are plenty of us who read newspapers in the morning and blogs for the rest of the day. I will continue buying the print versions until something truly better exists. (I tried reading the Times on that Kindle thing and almost threw it out the window) It’s only a matter of time until the innovative newspapers find a way to sweep us off our feet with a purchase-based digital version. And when that time comes, I think we will find ourselves reading a little less blog and a lot more journalism.

  7. Unfortunately, newspapers are killing themselves by giving away the same content on the internet that they charge for delivery. The news here is simple economics: why buy the cow…

  8. elijahP said

    The only reason to buy (or lease) the cow is to keep the milk flowing.

  9. SRP said

    Lots of good comments on this one.
    Clearly, the quick fade of newspapers is not without emotion.
    Thank you for contributing.
    More later,
    SRP

  10. I was having lunch with a musician a little while back and he was talking about the effect the internet has had on different industries. He said that his (music) was the first to go into the wood chipper. Next was newspapers. And, after that, would be advertising. That’s one of the problems with the internet –it seems to destroy industries faster than it creates them. And if it destroys too many of them, where’s it going to get its content from?

  11. elijahP said

    Hi Jim. Depending on when the conversation with your musician friend occurred, he is a very prescient fellow. When you say the internet seems to destroy industries faster than it creates them, it rings true. My heart doesn’t bleed for the music “Industry” because musicians can, and are, finding new avenues to create and get heard, free of the corrupt music corporations. It’s a struggle, but I think music is showing signs of being stronger. When it comes to the advertising “Industry,” it’s obviously being crushed too, and although I’m currently one of the ones being crushed, I think that those who solve marketing problems, write persuasively, author brand ideas, etc. will not only exist bust thrive. It will be painful. But for the life of me, I don’t see how journalism can exist without the institutions that support them. Freedom of the press isn’t free. It takes a certain largesse to give journalists the platform to do their job. Not only that, but there needs to be real competition among multiple newspapers/cable/magazines/radio/sites, etc.

  12. Arttism Print & Design said

    As a Graphic designer specializing in print trying to learn web based design its becoming more and frustrating just as you think you know how to do something they change it, things like the iphone and more so the ipad coming which has the curling effect on your e-newspapers and the ability to E-Flick the pages the newspaper does seem obsolete more and more problem with that is well you just cant go to your neighbour and say hey mate can i have your newspaper when your finished or use the paper to clean the grill,BBQ or hotplate down, i could just imagine some looney trying to clean there BBQ with an iphone……hey does anyone remember when they wrapped your fish and chips in newspaper…..i dont my folks do tho…. i love the smell of print but when i look at my iphone the most i could do is lick the screen and taste …well oil from my fingers most likely

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