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Why Newspapers Will Be Even Better in the Digital Age

Updated on October 21, 2013
Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.


The daily American newspaper has been going the way of the Dodo Bird for more than a decade. The evening editions are long gone. Newsrooms brimming with five hundred reporters have diminished even in our largest cities. Not only have staffs been reduced, but so have actual paper dimensions, with the most obvious being the depth of each issue. If it were not for the legal ads required for foreclosures and bankruptcies during the recent downturn in the economy, your hometown paper would hardly weigh enough for its velocity to carry it from the paperboy's car window to your driveway.

Papers have raised the price of bread and butter features like wedding and engagement announcements to the point today's brides simply send out save-the-date cards because they are cheaper than the thrill of seeing her picture in a newspaper none of her friends even read.

In 2008 an article in the Washington Post posed this question. Were we kidding ourselves? Isn't the news as a commodity valuable to anyone? Were newspapers only sell-able because they had classifieds, funny pages, and the latest sports scores?

The newspaper that covered Dixie like the dew was first published on February 24, 1883. The Atlanta Constitution merged with its afternoon competitor, The Atlanta Journal, in 2001.

The Chicago Sun-Times is the oldest continuously published daily newspaper in the city. It began in 1844 as the Chicago Evening Journal. In 1978 its most fierce competitor, the Chicago Daily News, like most afternoon papers gave in to declining audiences and ever-increasing expenses at the age of 102. Former editor Alan Mutter summed up the experience with these words: "It is a valuable reminder to today's media companies of what happens when you run out of readers, revenues, and ideas all at the same time."

The Rocky Mountain News published its final edition just short of its 150th anniversary. The newspaper had been around longer than Colorado has been a state, but in its final year it cost parent company E.W. Scripps Co. sixteen million dollars in losses.

It's not that the industry has not tried to adapt to the times. Many have launched Internet editions, with as many as one-third of U.S. newspapers attempting to build in paywalls to insure their online content continued to generate some of their lost revenues. Paywalls deny service to anyone not willing to pay to read. But as American audiences have become evermore tech-savvy, these early attempts have fallen short. The evolution of online newspapers has turned to the premium-service model, which is aimed at monetizing only a small part of the audience. It has worked for ESPN, Cooks Illustrated, Consumer Reports and a number of financial publishers. But that success requires readers who are three things at once: passionate, affluent, and have an insatiable appetite for a specific topic. Local news does not draw those kinds of readers.

Last Day 1978 The Chicago Daily News

Where do you get your daily news?

Do you still read newspapers daily - but online?

See results

Not so fast.

So, need the death nell toll for newspapers? Not so fast.

We still need a vehicle for receiving up to the minute breaking news alerts. We need to be able to depend on that vehicle for accuracy. There is only one way to insure that. We must have news writers who are held accountable for their facts and their quotes by editors who are committed to the bedrock principals of the fourth estate. It is a danger to the very fabric of society to have unvalidated points of view served up to the general public as fact by commentators who are simply voicing their own opinions. Bloggers report to no editor other than themselves. The trend today might be to shop for your preferred version of the news, but the news itself must be protected from distortion.

Other industries have been forced to change due to the dawn of the digital age. From the late 1800's to the end of the twentieth century one name was synonymous with picture-taking: Kodak. At age 24 George Eastman started his business for the purpose of simplifying the complicated process. By 1924, Eastman was so successful he was able to donate thirty million dollars to the University of Rochester, M.I.T., Hampton and Tuskegee institutions. In today's dollars that amounts to almost four hundred million dollars.

In the 1990's the market for this product virtually disappeared overnight. The advent of digital photography wiped out the demand for film. In January 2012, Eastman Kodak filed for Chapter 11 reorganization with plans to simplify their business model by only selling inkjet printers to commercial printers and film to the movie industry.

Why can't newspapers do that? After all, the product isn't newsprint and ink. The product is the news, unadulterated, as unbiased as humanly possible, and backed up by documented facts and the voices of the very people who actually say the words. The consolidation of newspapers in our major cities has put all of the journalistic eggs in one basket with a powerful brand awareness in the marketplace. What citizen journalist armed with cell phone video and a Twitter account can compete for the public's confidence against names like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal?

Local newspapers still have the largest reporting staffs of anybody in town. With the added tool of the wire services, a newspaper is able to produce the broadest range of daily news and features of any single news outlet. Why not put more money back into the newsroom and build up the main source of newspaper's power: community credibility.

Readers will always want to know about the schools, government, businesses, taxes, entertainment and teams closest to home. No news organization is better equipped or staffed to supply this information than a newspaper.

As traditional newspaper advertisers--airlines, retailers, banks, auto dealers, etc.--undergo their own evolutions, newspaper advertising remains one of the most efficient ways to reach relatively large numbers of educated, affluent people. Young people may not read the newspaper much, but in strictly business terms, advertisers buy newspaper space to sell goods and services aimed at an older, more moneyed crowd.

Digital photography already blazed the trail when photojournalists could suddenly take as many shots as they wanted without worry about the cost of film and developing products. The revolution began when they could immediately see the picture they'd just taken and transmit it to production at the click of a finger. Gone was that frantic drive back to the newsroom's darkroom with the gnawing fear that, as the shooter, you'd failed to get "the money shot."

The best part of the online revolution is newspapers can now accomplish what they used to envy radio for: immediacy. Instead of having to wait for production to be finished, and the presses to run, and delivery to be executed, now newspapers can deliver the news at the moment it breaks instead of only once a day. Is it little wonder that a product has been on the decline when it was only available for sale about twelve hours after its customers had already gotten it for free?

Online publication has also practically eliminated the need for the most dreaded aspect of journalism -: retraction of mistakes. Now, as soon as a mistake is discovered it can be corrected without the angst (and expense) of just putting ten thousand printed copies of the mistake on the street. Yes, a newspaper will still have to admit its errors, but without the humiliation of a 24-hour wait while that incorrect article circulates through a city of millions with your reporter's name on the byline.

Philip Meyer, a University of North Carolina professor who has studied the newspaper industry for three decades, says the last daily newspaper reader will check out in October of 2044. He is buying into the fear that today's young people won't grow into the next generation of readers. But the mistake the newspapers-are-dead crowd makes is believing that trends continue forever. Historically new communications media have not completely obliterated the old ones. Movies didn't eliminate novels, ebooks didn't eliminate paperbacks, and TV didn't eliminate movies.

While the woes of the newspaper are not anywhere near being put to rest any time soon, those with ink still running through their veins should take heart from a subtle but telling fact. The serious electronic news outlets still turn to the front page articles of the major daily papers to cover - in a glance - what is happening in America today.

Resources for this hub:

Encyclopedia Britanica

Business News

Newspaper Death Watch

Purdue University

American Journalism Review

Top 25 Online Newspapers in America

Top 25 Online Newspapers in America

  1. The New York Times (New York)
  2. Washington Post (Washington DC)
  3. Daily News (New York)
  4. New York Post (New York)
  5. Los Angeles Times (California)
  6. USA Today (National, Virginia)
  7. Chicago Tribune (Illinois)
  8. Boston Herald (Massachusetts)
  9. Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Georgia)
  10. The Miami Herald (Florida)
  11. The Aegis (Maryland)
  12. Charleston Gazette (West Virginia)
  13. Detroit Free Press (Michigan)
  14. Detroit News (Michigan)
  15. Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania)
  16. Chicago Sun-Times (Illinois)
  17. Arizona Republic (Arizona)
  18. The Dallas Morning News (Texas)
  19. The Boston Globe (Massachusetts)
  20. Las Vegas Review-Journal / Sun (Nevada)
  21. Denver Post (Colorado)
  22. Houston Chronicle (Texas)
  23. Kansas City Star (Missouri)
  24. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
  25. Wall Street Journall (New York)

A scene from many-a-newsroom, but this one is from the movie, "The Paper"

Your comments are valued and appreciated!

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    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      22 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Glen Sork: Great minds think alike. Enjoyed your hub on this topic!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      With "fake news" so much in the news these days, this hub might address some of those issues.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Re-posted this for another hubber whose hub is on the same subject. Hope he sees it and I'm not boring my other readers!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I also transitioned to the world of not-for-profit when it was time for my 3 kids to go to college. One of my jobs was press secretary for a congressional candidate that I felt blew my reputation for objectivity, so there was no going back. All the best to you as well. Hope you stay around long enough for me to read more of your stuff.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 

      3 years ago

      It was a great time in my life. Unfortunately, the pay scale is lacking. I needed to make more money and to be closer to better medical facilities for my son. So, I crossed the line and became Director of Public Affairs for a statewide oil and gas trade association. It was a good job for 23 years. The money and benefits were good, but it was not as much fun. Furthermore, my final boss did not have the character of my newspaper boss, and that led to my dismissal after 23 years. It was not a bad job, but being a reporter is the best job in the world--if you do it right.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I was a reporter/editor for a small weekly as well. Miss it every day but pay day. I also covered government and would not let my reporters interview the family after a death. Never covered nearly what you did though - Wow! That's a career.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 

      3 years ago

      You made a good point about local newspapers. I worked for a small local paper for 13 years--best job I ever had--not best paying--but most rewarding. The local paper is going to survive, especially in small towns that do not get national coverage. The wedding announcements are still free. Most charge for obituaries--because the survivors want detail than normal journalism would provide. The local spots teams are covered and in my case, I covered local government like a blanket. We put a crooked police chief in jail, changed the system of government, uncovered corruption in the police and fire departments and also covered a serial killer, but we never call the parents of the victims and asked "how are you holding up." It was not necessary. Five young ladies were kidnapped. Four bodies were found. The other was presumed dead, and the suspect died in a gun fight out-of-state. The story told itself.

      I live in a bigger city now. The local paper was owned by the same family for close to 100 years. They sold it. The new publisher is a business man. The paper is not what it used to be. I still read the comics, do the word jumble and read "this day in history" the rest of the news I get from television.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Welcome to my hubs! You might be interested in the one I did on the Graham family selling the Washington Post.

    • TDowling profile image

      Thomas Dowling 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Great Hub! I found it after you commented on JPac1’s Hub entitled, “CNN - The Downfall of Real Journalism.” I’m in my late 60s and still enjoy the tactile experience of reading a “real” newspaper, but I also go to the New York Times website almost daily and I occasionally visit the Washington Post and Science Christian Monitor sites.

      I’m not that much of an old codger that I can’t appreciate the speed and immediacy of online news. But I hate the impact the Internet has had on daily newspapers. I also hate that many young people believe everything they read on the Web.

      Over the last five years, I’ve watched the decline of the Orlando Sentinel as its trimmed news and features, and layoff reporters and columnists. After a while I couldn’t find any decent coverage of world and national news inside its pages. I dropped my Sentinel subscription and started one with USA Today. (I also get the NY Times on Sunday, which gives me unlimited access to their website.)

      I’ve enjoyed reading USA Today’s media columnist Rem Reider as he’s detailed the changes in journalism, especially at the Washington Post. (Rieder has held senior editing positions at a number of major newspapers, including the Post, Miami Herald and Milwaukee Journal.) You might be interested to read his latest column about the resurgence at the Washington Post after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the paper. Reider says the Post is “becoming a laboratory for experiments in how to transform itself for the digital age.”

      I appreciate the fact, your first poster Jainismus pointed out, “Change is (a) constant thing.” What many people hate is the speed in which change is coming at us. We are constantly assaulted by changes in software and hardware, add to that the daily barrage of about 174 newspapers of data (five times more than we experienced in 1986) and you understand that most of lives are all about dealing with constant change.

      On the other hand it makes for exciting times. -TD

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Vellur: My husband has a coffee mug that says: "I love the smell of newsprint in the morning." Thank goodness for folks like y'all or I would have been out of work a while back! Thanks, too, for your comments on this hub. Do you read a big city paper or a local one?

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 years ago from Dubai

      I still love to read a newspaper. It is much better than looking it up online. Great hub.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      carter06: Don't know that I've ever been tweeted before. Thanks. Welcome to my hubs. Hope you enjoy some of the others. "the dangers of points of views rather than a legitimate source" - exactly.

    • carter06 profile image


      5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Great article Kathleen and such an interesting look at the way things have evolved in the industry..the certainty is change and for the better I feel..who doesn't want cost effective changes such instant photos and instant correction of typo's etc..the downside of course is loss of jobs for journos, editors etc and the dangers of points of views rather than a legitimate source..good point you made above..will tweet this for the benefit of others..cheers

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      teaches12345: I'm honored to be read by a Hubbie Winner! Congrats! And thank God for folks who still feel the way you do, but the times, they are a-changing. Thanks for your comments.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      There is just something about reading the paper with a cup of coffee in your hand. It's probably just a memory for me, but I enjoy it. I do read online papers for my updates though.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thanks readers for the feedback! I would only add: Buyer Beware - when it comes to today's news sources. There is so much out there masquerading as "news" when it is really only somebody spouting off their views. Consider the source - whatever you read or listen to.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      Yes, the news itself must be protected from distortion!!! You have presented much positive insight for the newspaper of the digital age. In my state, all three major newspapers have stopped printing daily and had to let go most of their staff, which is due to this new digital age.

      I am nostalgic in thinking of growing up with the newspaper and even in reading the Funnies and all the rest and cannot help but to think that the younger generation will never ever know of such days of the history of great news reporting through the newspapers.

      Up and more and sharing

      God bless,

      Faith Reaper

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      It has been a while since I have read the newspaper even when I used to it wasn't about the corrupt news, but about other interesting stuff. I now watch CNN or Sky News if I need to. Why Newspapers Will Be Even Better in the Digital Age is interesting and useful indeed. Voted up!

    • Francesca27 profile image


      5 years ago from Hub Page

      I worked for a newspaper for a few was a wonderful thing being part of that world...thanks for letting me know that there is still hope for the newspaper business.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      5 years ago from Chicago Area

      Kathleen, you are so right! Newspapers aren't paper and ink, they are sources of news... regardless of the medium. Today, I get my news through scanning Twitter and my RSS feed reader. But I rarely, if ever, look to the newspaper sites. We are definitely in the "choose your news" era. Subject for a whole 'nother post! Great rundown of the state of the newspaper industry!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      You and my husband. As an old reporter, thank God for folks like y'all. I bought my husband a coffee mug when I visited the Newseum in DC because I couldn't resist. It read: I just love the smell of newsprint in the morning.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I skim the news online but honestly, I miss holding the paper in my hands. LOL I know it's stupid but that was one tradition I always enjoyed and it's not there online. :) Anyway, excellent job of looking at this topic.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      jainismus: Thanks for the prompt feedback. What's your news source or sources?

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      5 years ago from Pune, India

      Great analysis...

      Change is constant thing.


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