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Dying newspapers - so bleeping what?

© March 2009 Anthony Lawrence

The idea that newspapers and news magazines don't matter is sacrilege to some. "You'll be sorry when we're gone", they say. They warn us that without them, "real news" won't be available. Scary, isn't it? Maybe we all better re-up our subscriptions..

Well, I haven't subscribed to a newspaper in decades. Part of that is because I don't like wasting trees on something that gets thrown away, but mostly its because there is so little that I really want and so much that I don't even look at - more shameful waste.

We did use to subscribe to our home town paper. It was very thin, and there was less in it of zero interest. When we moved to our new home here, we did try the local weekly, but it was as thick as a daily and packed with too much junk we just don't care about, so we dropped that too.

I do still subscribe to a few news magazines, but that's only because well meaning relatives send them as gifts. I'll pick them up now and then - they get skinnier and skinnier every year and there's not much worth reading.

Like most of us nowadays, I get news from TV, radio and the Internet, and mostly the latter. The newspaper folks say that when newspapers go, I won't be able to find real news:

Salon.com "The death of the news"

What is really threatened by the decline of newspapers and the related rise of online media is reporting -- on-the-ground reporting by trained journalists who know the subject, have developed sources on all sides, strive for objectivity and are working with editors who check their facts, steer them in the right direction and are a further check against unwarranted assumptions, sloppy thinking and reporting, and conscious or unconscious bias.

If newspapers die, so does reporting. That's because the majority of reporting originates at newspapers. Online journalism is essentially parasitic. Like most TV news, it derives or follows up on stories that first appeared in print.

Oh my.

I suppose they really believe this. Paddle wheel steamboat operators on the old Mississippi river probably sat on barstools and bitterly explained how awful the world was going to be when those big wheels stopped a-turning. Itinerant story-tellers surely railed against the advent of movable type. No doubt some curmudgeonly caveman complained that this new-fangle fire thing destroyed the beauty of the night..

Reporting isn't going to die. Professional journalism isn't going to die. It will change, yes. Reporters will learn to do more with the web, more with email, more electronic research. The newspapers will tell you that it is impossible to support news with advertising, but that's a fib: it may be impossible to support the profits that the owners of newspapers used to be accustomed to, but internet advertising will support the reporters and writers just fine - assuming, of course, that they are writing anything worth reading.

In some cases, what they are writing about might even be worth paying for. Oh, not the ridiculous 10 cents per article that some of these jokers have proposed. The problem with the newspaper folk is that they have a highly inflated view of their own value.

Big newspapers in the U.S. boasted circulation of 2 million or so. Some other countries have papers with much higher readership. A website with two million readers a day could run Google ads and earn several thousand dollars per day at a minimum, probably close to $20,000 with direct ads. That's not the kind of money the owners are used to now, but that's more than $6 million a year - enough to support a decent staff. Sell news to other outlets and it could be even more.

So what's the problem? No problem if you are a journalist reporter: just band together with a few others like you and you'll make a decent living. Of course if you are the owner of a big newspaper, you have become unnecessary: nobody needs your capital to finance the printing cost because there are none. Nobody needs your capital to buy typesetting equipment because it's all HTML. Nobody needs your capital to finance the big building because the journalists don't need a building. Nobody needs your capital, so you don't get your profits.

And by the way, NPR, which depends mostly on donations, manages to do just fine with news. They run ads at their website, beg for donations, sell merchandise, and, oh yeah, sell programs and news to affiliate stations all around the country. You can find their financial statements at their website; it's very interesting to look at the revenue side. Do they need print?

Dead trees and polluting ink. I'll be happy to see them go.

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-> Dying newspapers - so bleeping what?

Inexpensive and informative Apple related e-books:

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