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No more newspapers

At the start of my journalism career I wrote, in a magazine, about how newspapers are adapting to the online world. The article concluded with this statement: newspapers must revolutionize themselves online, or watch the risk-taking new media companies attract their readers and their advertisers.

Twelve years, to the month, later Clay Shirky published an astute article suggesting there is something more to newspapers’ failure to adapt:

When we shift our attention from ‘save newspapers’ to ‘save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

…Any experiment, though, designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.

One of those papers he implicitly refers to is the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

That newspaper published its last print edition today.

As my colleague Mike Davidson noted, it’s been strange, literally watching this collapse happen before one’s eyes, especially given we’re working in the field newspapers are hoping to reinvent themselves in.

And it's not that they're not trying, the P-I will be going online-only with a greatly reduced staff trying in many ways to emualte Huffington Post. The New York Times continues to innovate, but is still stumped on how to make money to fund these experiments and quality reportage.

The problem, though, as Shriky and others suggest, is that what really needs inventing is the business model behind the distribution of news, not the particular medium it is reported in. Newspapers are closing, local television news shows are going off-air, magazines are cutting back, and as a result journalists are losing their jobs.

Interest in news, though, has never been higher, and as a result this ecosystem is thriving, and with it, a chance to evolve a better way to tell the news.

Ten days later, things are worse…and better. The P-I is now an online-only publication that looks, for all intents and purposes the same as the newspaper’s site; newspaper ad revenue has dropped 16.6 percent, online was down 1.8 percent in 2008 (although Canadian newspaper readership seems stable); and the CBC, The New York Times, and even Google announced nearly one-thousand layoffs one the same day. But…people are seriously evaluating what is important about journalism and innovation in the online journalism category is finally starting to reach the potential many of us had hoped would be the de facto way online news was presented by now.