Some words on the death of Newspapers…

March 4, 2009

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My last post about the demise of newspapers created a rash of good dialogue in the comments section, some of which I want to share here on the “front page.” But first a few thoughts…

In the spring of 1994 I got my first company-issued Mac at Leo Burnett. Prior to that we writers had all been using IBM Selectrics or a word processor of some sort –mine being from Radio Shack.

On April 5, 1994, at the age of 27, Curt Cobain killed himself in the room above his garage.

Never mind the death of newspapers.

Never mind the death of newspapers.

While unrelated, these two events created a massive change in our culture that was. Not quite 15 years ago America, for all intents and purposes, went digital. Cobain’s home state of Washington would move on as well, soon giving the world Starbucks and Amazon, in some respects leading us all into the modern era of email, social networks and digital communications.

Selling words or killing them?

Selling words or killing them?

Poetically, it’s a good marker for the beginning of the end of newspapers.

Excluding word-of-mouth, newspapers were the first information delivery systems, originating hundreds of years ago, well before magazines, radio, television and the Internet. One could make a case for signs being even older but you get my point. Newspapers are old. And now they are dying.

Cobain’s death. My first computer. Amazon.com. In that order. And look at the world now…

If newspapers are to live, and I hope they do, they will need to be saved, for their natural evolution leads to death. Their DNA, of course, will live on. No one disputes that. But no more ink on the fingers. No more sharing sections with your girl on a Sunday afternoon. And certainly no more classifieds.

Before writing their obituary, or perhaps as preamble to it, take a look at these comments from yesterday’s blog post:

From Bill Marks: 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.

From Bob Hoffman: 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.

From Jim Schmidt: 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?

From Van Gould: 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.

From Gordon Robertson: 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.

Powerful commentary. But is it an obituary or a new beginning?

3 Responses to “Some words on the death of Newspapers…”

  1. Pale Writer said

    Personally, I still think Courtney did it.

  2. SRP said

    Of course she did.
    Put a Hole write through it.

  3. S.A. Trosley said

    1985 syllogism:

    Journalism is an enterprise not a crusade.

    Enterprise is guided and measured by accountants.

    Therefore, accountants should run newspapers.

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