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Even Twittering a Funeral Cannot Save Newspaper

Friday, February 27, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 7:48 AM, under

Athens, GA (Feb 27, 2009) - Looking back on it now, the decision by the Rocky Mountain News to live twitter the funeral of a 3-year old boy should have just shouted "jumping the shark." But who knew back in September 2008 that today, February 27, 2009 would be the last day that the presses would be rolling for that newspaper?

Yes, today will be the last day the Rocke Mountain News gets published after nearly 150 years of service. It should be a sad day for everyone, because it will not be the last newspaper that will have to fold. Forget the Internet, for without newspapers and their trained journalists, we all lose.

Goodbye: This sports editorial cartoon in today's farewell edition
of The Rocky Mountain News says it all.

Some newspapers like the Atlanta-Journal Constitution will deserve their fate as they have dumbmed down their content so much that it has become a mockery of an institution. But those newspapers who have not lost their way like the Washington Post and the New York Times need to survive and be read, because they do make a difference, even if you do ot like their editorial slant.

We need to start paying for newspaper content on-line, as written in a recent Time Magazine essay. We have got to end this expectation of the free lunch on the Internet. It takes time, people, and money to produce the content. Advertising alone will not pay the bills.

We may not like it when web sites like ESPN takes content and puts it behind a paid wall. But it is a business decision that has to be made. Whether you find value in paying for content by writers such as Andy Katz and other writers is up to you.

And there is a bottom line simple question we need to face up to. Has the Internet really made life better for we as people? Sure, it may have made life simpler in a lot of ways. But how do we weigh those benefits against cyber-stalking, identity theft, cyber-fraud, and increased organized crime activities in the ether?

Related Link(s)

Denver, Rocky good sports (Rocky Mountain News)
Time Magazine: How to Save Your Newspaper
Paper's Decision to Twitter 3-Year-Old's Funeral Sparks Outrage (ABC News)

Currently have 1 comments:

  1. Morgan Wick says:

    (Prologue: Why does the New York Times website lock up IE7 occasionally? It wiped out an early version of this comment.)

    I couldn't disagree more, although it's a shame the News had to fold, and you better hope the larger blogging community doesn't discover this, because I suspect they're going to say much worse things about this than I will. (And considering you moderate comments, may well already have. And might be making you thankful for that moderation function.)

    First of all, the "micropayments" advocated by Walter Isaacson in that essay don't work, and if they did we'd probably already be using them. For them, and subscriptions, to work, they'd need to be in place almost EVERYWHERE, and it would probably need to be impossible for ordinary people to publish for free.

    The funny thing is, I've read that even before the Internet, newspapers already made most of their money from advertising, not subscriptions or newsstand sales. They just haven't been able to make them as ubiquitous or effective on the Web as they are on the printed page. (Since you can click right through to the web site of the advertiser to learn more, non-intrusive web ads - even those that break up articles - should be MORE effective than print ads.) The loss of subs and newsstand sales is hurting, and it'll be difficult to replace the full-page ad, but newspapers could solicit donations to keep them running, or even go to a nonprofit model. They could sell various physical tchotskes (think's weird but worthy-of-examination T-shirts) as well. And there's always the option of putting valuable but non-essential things behind a paywall like ESPN does. The New York Times puts its old articles behind a paywall, but $3.95 for a single article that's decades old is ridiculous.

    What's killing newspapers isn't necessarily the freeness of the Internet per se - there are plenty of ways around that - but the newfound competition of blogs, a one-two punch that newspapers are finding hard to cope with. The Internet makes it easier to get some form of journalistic training, and while the great unwashed may not necessarily know the hows and whats of journalism themselves, they do know good journalism when they see it, and they will frequent and support the sites and people that provide it, no matter where they are. Especially in local areas, bloggers can provide coverage of what's happening in the community from the perspective of the same people who might make up their audience, not someone who just graduated from Whateverjournalismschool across the country, has never even been in the state in her life, and only took the job because it was whatever paper was hiring at that time. That's why papers like the News are the ones that are going to fold, and papers like the Post and Times are probably relatively safe.

    Even if they aren't, the trained journalists are still out there, they've just lost their employment. What do they do with their skills now? THEY START A BLOG OF COURSE! (Or take the blog their paper gave them and maintain it on their own.) Now they're doing the same thing they were doing for the newspaper, only now they're doing it for less money and with less resources.

    What does the loss of resources mean? Travel has to be cut back (again, the national papers are less likely to fold), but any truly local stories can probably be covered by local blogs. Areas with a paucity of Internet access are still a problem, though, as well as truly national stories (though with e-mail and modern communications that might be less of a problem) so let's start by keeping that in mind. Perhaps "journalists" decide to start taking bribes for favorable coverage, but that WILL be found out and you WILL be disgraced. I'm actually having a hard time coming up with things that really require money and resources, especially with how easy the Internet makes it to do research, if you know what you're doing. (And "trained journalists) do know what they're doing, right?)

    The flip side of that is things that may or may not cost that much money, but which aren't necessarily read by a lot of people. Investigative journalism is not really written for the general public, but various specialty audiences, who process and interpret and act on the findings. That may change as those specialty audiences have their own blogs with which they can spread the word, but it can still come off as dry. There's a reason investigative journalism has undergone a nadir with or without the Internet.

    So: coverage of events in places without Internet access (a problem even when members of the military blog from there), coverage of truly national stories, and investigative journalism (and "smart" journalism in general, though that may survive anyway). Take care of those three, and the loss of newspapers might not be so bad. Assuming outfits like the Post or Times fold (and I think if they're smart, they have enough time to adapt), I see investigative outfits either becoming nonprofits or pay sites, and taking on many of the dimensions of covering places with little Internet access (which should eventually improve anyway). Things that truly require actually travelling across country... what things would fall into that category? (Others have probably thought about these things far more than I have. The best way for newspapers to survive, paradoxically, may well be to stop having print editions.)

    I wonder if this will go down in history as the Internet Depression - a natural, necessary re-evaluation of everything to get the Internet to fit in to the US and global economy.

    Has the Internet made life better for we as a people? When you ask that question, you're asking a tough philosophical question that's difficult to assess. You could certainly ask the same question of television, but also of countless other inventions across history. There's a reason Luddism exists.

    I don't think you give the Internet enough credit. The Internet has allowed people to learn as much as they want at the click of a mouse, making us all smarter (where TV may have made us dumber), more informed citizens, and could yet result in better policy decisions made by policymakers - or on a broader scale, the advancement of the human race. The Internet could lead to the creation of forms of art never before even perceived. It could create a new form of economic freedom for the oppressed. The Internet could pave the path for further inventions that could improve the lot of the world. And where TV broke us apart, the Internet may be in the process of building a true global community, building people's understanding of others.

    That it may not have not done any of these things yet, even the things that seem tantalizingly close, should not be held against it; no tool should be judged by the things it is used for. Just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it couldn't. In as little as ten years, your question could sound silly (especially if the structure of the Internet is beefed up for security).

    This is an exciting, evolutionary time in human history, and while sometimes I wish I was born earlier to contribute to some earlier era, I'm excited to be along for the ride, and savoring every moment of it - as should we all.

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