I find myself fascinated by how fast the fallout of newspapers (and magazines) is progressing. If you’re not paying attention, let me put it to you in a far more succinct fashion: physical newspapers are dying. I mean it. The largest daily newspaper in Seattle is gone. Poof. They have literally stopped producing a physical paper for the first time in 146 years. It is now reduced to a fully digital/web offering – a pile of Associated Press stories and a skeleton crew in Seattle. If I remember correctly, something like 85% of the staff was laid off. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver – gone. Large daily newspapers in Philadelphia, Minnesota and Tuscon are on the ropes.The grand daddy of them all, the New York Times, is not expected to last much longer in its current incarnation for more than a year. A blip, really. It’s happening and it’s happening FAST.
Make no bones about it, we are living through a revolution here. The money people pay for newspapers was never the straw the stirred the drink – it was the advertisers who paid the paper to reach those eyeballs. As the digital shift continues, the cost in reaching those same eyeballs drops by 5-10x, depending on who you ask. Bottom line – income at newspapers is spiraling. The slippery slope continues – if you’re making that much less income, you can’t afford to pay quality journalists. Hell, you can’t afford to keep the lights on. And so it goes. Consider Seattle and Denver step 1 in a 200 step process. Much like the music business, where it stops, nobody knows. There will be new business models that emerge. I, for one, can’t wait to see how it shakes out. On the other hand, the traditionalist in me – the one who always envisioned having my boys on my lap reading the sports pages – is startled and sad.
You should read this article from The Atlantic. It’s predominantly focused on the New York Times and it’s terribly interesting, giving us a decent history lesson of what’s going on and some solid guesswork about what the next steps might be in the digital revolution and how it applies to the news business. There will be options. It’s not like news is going away, it’s just that nobody has found the right solution to make it work on the business side yet. But if you weren’t paying attention to things like this when the U.S. Air flight landed in the Hudson, I think you’d better start soon, because that’s a solid hint of where it’s all going.
Did you read any of the blogs when Katrina hit? Or any of the Iraqi’s who posted their experiences on websites during this war? Again, there’s an indication. Do you read The Huffington Post? It’s not exactly, ahem, fair and balanced, but they’re onto something there.
I see a time where our nations most respected journalists might be their own newspaper. Be it a blog or some kind of network of other respected journalists working together somehow, who knows. Oh, they won’t produce Sunday versions with Sports, Entertainment, Home/Garden and the like, but they’ll be one of many sources for your news.
There’s certainly a subset of people who probably don’t care at all about this – they never really read newspapers anyway. But I grew up getting a morning (and evening!) newspaper and reading it every day. It was part of the fabric of my every day life. I will miss it dearly. But I am also terribly excited about being alive in a time when such fascinating change is happening before my eyes on a daily basis. No revolution is ever painless, but I do believe quality journalism will actually improve in the end.