Why Newspapers Will Be Even Better in the Digital Age
The daily American newspaper has been going the way of the Dodo Bird for decades. 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, bankruptcies, deaths, and divorces, 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?
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:
Newspaper Death Watch
American Journalism Review
Top 25 Online Newspapers in America
Top 25 Online Newspapers in America
- The New York Times (New York)
- Washington Post (Washington DC)
- Daily News (New York)
- New York Post (New York)
- Los Angeles Times (California)
- USA Today (National, Virginia)
- Chicago Tribune (Illinois)
- Boston Herald (Massachusetts)
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Georgia)
- The Miami Herald (Florida)
- The Aegis (Maryland)
- Charleston Gazette (West Virginia)
- Detroit Free Press (Michigan)
- Detroit News (Michigan)
- Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania)
- Chicago Sun-Times (Illinois)
- Arizona Republic (Arizona)
- The Dallas Morning News (Texas)
- The Boston Globe (Massachusetts)
- Las Vegas Review-Journal / Sun (Nevada)
- Denver Post (Colorado)
- Houston Chronicle (Texas)
- Kansas City Star (Missouri)
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
- Wall Street Journall (New York)