Newspapers dying — news thriving

by Mathew on February 7, 2008 · 6 comments

There’s a piece in the New York Times today that takes a look at the newspaper industry in the United States and concludes — not surprisingly — that these are dark times indeed. That won’t come as news to anyone who has been following the industry over the past couple of years, as papers across the U.S. have been downsizing, selling assets, getting bought by “grave dancers” like Sam Zell, and so on.

Is this a national tragedy? Some would have you believe that it is. And I’m sure many of those being downsized at the newspapers in question would like to think that it is — not to mention many of those doing the downsizing and selling off assets. But just because newspapers aren’t doing well doesn’t mean that journalism or media or the news business itself isn’t doing well. If anything, people are searching for more and more news all the time. They’re just doing it online instead of on paper.

Amy Gahran has a great column putting things in perspective at the Poynter Institute site. As she puts it:

“Personally, I’d be surprised if many dailies are left standing after the next 7-10 years, if they don’t make fast, fundamental changes to their revenue strategies. I realize this is dire news to people who can’t envision doing anything but working for a traditional newspaper.

But on the bright side, for those with flexibility and a bit of business savvy, I think that right now there is more space than ever in the news market for entrepreneurial journalistic ventures.”

As Amy describes it, monolithic newspapers and paper chains may not do well in this new environment (although there’s no reason to think that they can’t, especially with advertisers looking for trusted brands to latch onto), but that doesn’t mean journalism or media is ailing. “Smaller, more numerous, entrepreneurial ventures with less overhead and inertia could be the future of journalism,” she says.

Dan Kennedy — whose post I found through Amy’s column, and she in turn found through the Wired Journalists network that Ryan Sholin set up — says the evolution that the media industry is going through feels like it’s the end of something, but it could turn out to be the beginning of something at the same time. As he puts it:

The news business has been through several paradigm shifts since taking on a form we’d recognize beginning in the 1830s. The current one may be unusually wrenching. But it only looks like the end of the world because it happens to be the one we’re living through.

Kennedy suggests that many newspapers will have to refocus on local markets instead of trying to get by on wire stories that everyone else has, and that maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

  • http://contentious.com Amy Gahran

    Hey, glad you found my Tidbits post useful, Mathew.

    So what do you think? Where are the best opportunities for the journalism business these days?

    Incidentally, yesterday on Tidbits I blogged about how the dean of Columbia j-school thinks journalism's next bright hope is government subsidies. I kid you not.

    http://snurl.com/1z7zj

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Well, Amy, in a nutshell I think that newspapers need to use the tools
    of the Web to increase their reach and build their brand and
    community, instead of just whining about how no one reads the paper
    version any more.

    I saw the item about the Columbia J-school dean too — I wrote about
    that a bit in this post:
    http://www.mathewingram.com/work/2008/01/25/jou

  • http://www.kayvontv.com Richard Budman

    Mathew,
    If the paper's are whining that no one reads the paper version anymore, I can tell you why – $1.25 – I'm a guy that still enjoys sitting down with the “paper version” and a cup of joe (usually as a break away from the computer screen). But why do I remember paying 75 cents for my beloved Globe a litle over two years ago(?).. and recently being asked by my friendly corner grocery clerk for $1.25 for a weekday edition (I actually decided not to buy it) “Too much”. I'll read it online I thought. If that's the strategy to keep the paper edition alive.. it probably is in real trouble.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    We're just trying to squeeze a little more out of the dwindling number
    of paper readers, Richard :-)

  • http://dansdiversions.com Dan Atkinson

    Papers will survive. When TV was new, people predicted that the movie industry was doomed;it didn;t happen. The same logic will apply to newspapers. Yes we have the Internet
    but people enjoy reading the paper, they like to hold it, put it down, they like to fiddle with the crosswords. Smart newspapers like the Toronto Sun, have already set up their e-business
    while publishing 7days a week and being available online. In the Orient, they are developing a form of portable e-newspaper

  • http://dansdiversions.com Dan Atkinson

    Papers will survive. When TV was new, people predicted that the movie industry was doomed;it didn;t happen. The same logic will apply to newspapers. Yes we have the Internet
    but people enjoy reading the paper, they like to hold it, put it down, they like to fiddle with the crosswords. Smart newspapers like the Toronto Sun, have already set up their e-business
    while publishing 7days a week and being available online. In the Orient, they are developing a form of portable e-newspaper

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