Wednesday, March 11, 2009

March 11, 2009

    Are newspapers dying?  Some of them certainly are.  You probably read about the Rocky Mountain News closing the other day.  More are on the brink.
     24/7 Wall Street, a firm which deals in financial news and opinion, has come out with a list of ten major papers it says are likely to fold or only print online.  These are big papers:  the Philadelphia Daily News, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Miami Herald, the Boston Globe, and so on.  What's going on?
     A generation or two ago, the arrival of evening newscasts on TV killed afternoon papers. The best-written paper in Chicago when I was growing up was the Chicago Daily News.  Along came TV and the News, like all the PMs folded.  The villain this time seems to be news on the internet. Papers are hurting;  some TV ratings are down, too.
     The New York Times has an interview today with Nick Bilton, who's in its research and development lab.  He talks about news showing up on little mobile screens, on laptops, e-book readers, television screens.  But he thinks newspapers will survive.  I hope he's right.
     The fact is, democracies need smart, well-informed voters.  TV news doesn't offer the range a newspaper does.  Years ago when I worked at CBS, I remember people saying that the whole Evening News--about twenty-three minutes, the rest was commercials--would fit on the front page of the Times, maybe with space left over.  Most of these new on-line forms are brief as well.
     So newspapers cut their staffs, cut down on what makes them special--investigative reporting, foreign coverage, and so on.  If everyone just runs the Associated Press story, consumers get only one version of the truth, and that's not good.
     The solution, probably, is for newspapers to figure out a way to put all that good stuff on the internet, run ads with it and charge for it.  That hasn't happened yet;  let's hope it does.  Old guys like me, of course, will still miss the way the paper feels in the morning as you sip your coffee and crinkle the pages.   

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