Are Newspapers Headed for Extinction?

Tue, 19 May 2009 15:07:37 +0000

With two caveats, the short answer is, "I hope so." It is paper, for heaven's sake. Why do we need to go through the trouble of printing when posting will do? That's so 19th century.

I mentioned two caveats, so here they are. First, I will always be willing to pay some small fee (like our current $3.75 a week) for an organized presentation that provides me with my local news. I think there will always be a market for that. The presentation doesn't have to be printed, but at present, that's the best way for us to get it. Second, I do not really care about the disappearance of the newspaper, but I do care about the disappearnce of newsrooms -- the independent, aggressive search for new information to be reported. I wouldn't be surprised if most of that activity migrated to the non-profit sector over the coming decade. I would always be willing to pay some small fee (like a charitable donation of $100 a year) to support a well designed non-profit information gathering entity.

But even beyond the recent and prospective disappearance of newsrooms, what concerns me most about the media business is the preceding and even more severe disappearance of quality from the media business. Pete and Stan mentioned technology in their posts on this topic as a prime cause of traditional media's demise. That is true up to a point -- given the internet technology available today, traditional media in their traditional forms are not going to get any bigger. But that doesn't mean that the motivating ideas behind traditional media can't get any bigger -- what we refer to as traditional media gave away its brand long before it was taken away. Here's how I finished off a blog post a couple of years ago:

There is another problem. The news business is a business, to be sure, but it is supposed to be a serious business. These sagas of missing or crazy people just don't rise to the level of seriousness required of a news organization. It is beneath them, and they should recognize it as such. And people notice this lack of seriousness--they begin to impart that lack of seriousness to the whole brand, even when something big happens and we really then do need a serious news organization. And we are all worse off for it.

I think these problems have only gotten worse. I miss the serious news organizations and would pay to get them back. If most of what is printed today or broadcast on television disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn't miss it at all.