Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Will you miss newspapers when they are gone?

Time for an Andy Rooney rant:

Several times this week I have followed links to Citizen Times articles and have been told the "story cannot be found".

No clues are provided if the article EVER even existed at all. Really. Sure, there is a special page you can go to and order reprints or gain access to older articles, but it's about as user friendly as programming your VCR (heh ... another fading consumer technology).

I understand advertising models for newspaper archives have not matured, but some newspaper websites at least offer "search engine friendly" summaries for an article that (a) allows search engine indexing with search engine friendly URLs (more traffic guys!), (b) allows that article page to gather Google PageRank, and therefore site authority (more traffic guys!), (c) provides a text summary so there is an indication to the reader an article did actually exist (more traffic for longer guys!), complemented with (d) a way for the reader or researcher to access the article for a small fee (more money guys!) without hunting and pecking around the site like a rat looking for cheese.

See? I don't just whine. I'm offering solutions :-).

The New York Times actually does this quite well.

Ultimately I believe many articles could be freely available - tourism articles, small business articles, and other important local items. These would provide monetary value in the long tail. Many small business would LOVE to advertise on tourism articles where out-of-towners are looking to spend money.

In the midst of my admittedly over dramatized frustration, Seth Godin's latest post came across my newsreader, "When newspapers are gone, what will you miss?" I must say, he hit the nail on the head:
Years and years after some pundits began predicting the end of newspapers, the newspapers themselves are finally realizing that it's over. Huge debt, high costs, declining subscription rates, plummeting ad base--will the last one out please turn off the lights.
On their way out, though, we're hearing a lot of, "you'll miss us when we're gone..." laments. I got to thinking about this. It's never good to watch people lose their livelihoods or have to move on to something new, even if it might be better. I respect and honor the hard work that so many people have put into newspapers along the way. If we make a list of newspaper attributes and features, which ones would you miss?

Woodpulp, printing presses, typesetting machines, delivery trucks, those stands on the street and the newsstand... I think we're okay without them.

The sports section? No, that's better online, and in no danger of going away, in fact, overwritten commentary by the masses is burgeoning.

The weather? Ditto. Comics are even better online, and I don't think we'll run out of those.

Book and theater and restaurant reviews? In fact, there are more of these online, often better, definitely more personal and relevant, and also in no danger of going away.

The full page ads for local department stores? The free standing inserts on Sunday? The supermarket coupons? Easily replaced.

How about the editorials and op eds? Again, I think we're not going to see opinion go away, in fact, the web amplifies the good stuff.

What's left is local news, investigative journalism and intelligent coverage of national news. Perhaps 2% of the cost of a typical paper. I worry about the quality of a democracy when the the state government or the local government can do what it wants without intelligent coverage. I worry about the abuse of power when the only thing a corrupt official needs to worry about is the TV news. I worry about the quality of legislation when there isn't a passionate, unbiased reporter there to explain it to us.

But then I see the in depth stories about the gowns to be worn to the inauguration or the selection of the White House dog and I wonder if newspapers are the most efficient way to do this anyway.
To me, the only thing keeping papers going is that "it's the way it's always been". Holdover behavior and habits. Shards of routine remain.

Yet there are entire generations of high schoolers and college students with no "emotional connection" to holding newsprint in their hands. They get news on their Blackberrys via a plethora of news sites, celebrity news at Perez Hilton, The Smoking Gun, and TMZ. These kids understand media bias earlier (and in larger numbers) than I ever did and do their own fact-checking on Wikipedia or "Fact Check" sites.

With Newsreaders I read most of the local papers online before they hit the newsstands.

I agree the holy grail will be dominating local news, but with this down economy, people are taking matters into their own hands.

In talking with some, they dismiss AC-T as stupid, clueless, and digging their own grave as they greatly economize operations. That may be a bit shortsighted. And many of my friends eke out some income writing for AC-T and related papers.

End of rant. If you're still reading, bless you :-)

What do you think?


Christopher C. NC said...

I think if papers like the AC-T actually did intelligent local news, investigative journalism and intelligent coverage of national news, particularly local news and hadn't tossed that all aside long ago for the common denominator mass produced fluff, they wouldn't be sinking near as fast as they are.

Your solution oriented rant about their slow adoption of new technology is on target too, more from a business aspect than the survival of the dead tree version of a paper. A paper printed version once a week or so with the top local, best investigative reports and national coverage would likely still get a good subscriper/delivery rate.

Kelly said...

yes, we can get all the news we want online, and read about breaking news much more quickly... and see comics, and sports coverage, and save trees, and all of those things.

but... won't anyone else miss the feeling of holding a newspaper while you drink your coffee? i will.

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