Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Daily Paper

The front page of today's New York Times city edition.

Many people think that daily newspapers are not much longer for this world. Snarky references to "dead tree media" abound on blogs and websites. Many think in today's world the business model that newspapers work under is not a model that can go anymore. Papers just can't sell enough advertisements and enough papers to pay their staff to put out the paper. People are using the Internet and cable TV to get their news, and canceling paper subscriptions. Advertisers are pulling ads from papers because of the decrease in the number of eye balls that look at the paper. It's all down hill, a nasty cycle.

I can't speak for folks younger than myself, but I like the paper, and if money was a little looser around my house, I'd probably subscribe. I like the feel of the paper in my hands. I like the portability. It weighs practically nothing! I like the fact that it does not require electricity or an Internet portal. You can read the paper in the jungle, in the forest, and in northeastern Vermont, where there is no cell service and only dial-up Internet. I don't even mind the ink stains on my fingers. At heart, this blogger is an ink stained wretch.

The daily newspaper in a city is frequently the investigative bulldog. Newspapers can take time to research a subject and then write a sizable number of words on it. The average news story on local TV news gets two minutes. A special report might get four minutes. Rarely, a network might dedicate a 30 or 60 minute program to one subject, but this is very uncommon. The newspaper reporter is the one who checks his facts, interviews everyone, and then puts it all together in a detailed way. The average newspaper reporter has many more resources and much more backing and support then the average blogger.

The newspaper biz is trying to reinvent itself. Partnerships with television stations, Internet sites and blogs are all a part of it. But it's difficult, because the Internet has a history of being free to use. Free does not pay salaries for journalists. Some think newspapers are losing because of issues with content. Usually these surround liberal verses conservative issues, but some are of the opinion that newspapers are elitist in what they choose to cover or not cover. Issues of racism come up surrounding crime and its coverage, or commentary on Black or White or Hispanic issues (depending on the commenter's point of view, of course).

I would hate to see newspapers disappear. I would seriously miss picking up The Kansas City Star, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, or even The Burlington Free Press. Yes, perhaps some remnant of these papers would be present on the Internet. But it wouldn't be the same. A community is tied together by what is printed in the paper. Everyone sees and reads the same thing. Some agree, some disagree and thus the community talks about important issues and things. With the Internet, it's very fragmented, and not the same effect.

If you read the experts, they all say the newspaper is dead. Maybe now is a good time to look at what it is a newspaper does well, and what it gives to the community, and make sure that those tasks are picked up by some branch of the new media. If not, if the intellectual and community space filled by the paper is not filled by something else, our cities and towns will be less for it.

Some links: Interesting article from American Journalism Review

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