Why Newspapers are Dying (and what they can do about it)

I’ve been picking on newspapers for a while, for much longer than I have been a blogger. To me the decline became apparent in the eighties and nineties when the big corporations started snapping newspapers up and the focus of newspapers drifted away from news and moved toward profits. Newspapers, at their best, are a very personal enterprise. Corporations, especially ones that are big enough to buy a slew of newspapers, know nothing about passion. Still, for a long time they only had television to compete with. TV is just as bland and corporate as newspapers are. It took the Internet, and passionate individuals, to dig the grave for newspapers.

A Lack of Interest

I haven’t subscribed to a newspaper since the early nineties. I occasionally buy the local paper, but it is usually because I want the car or the grocery ads or because I have some time to kill in a restaurant. I certainly don’t buy the local paper looking for a great reading experience. Every newspaper runs the same canned stories off of the news wire. Their local coverage consists of mostly basic police/court coverage, business stories, road construction updates and reasonably good coverage of the sports scene. None of these are things I can’t do without. More importantly, I can find any of it on online if I bother to look. For the record, I also don’t watch the news, local or national, on television. Television “news” is all about blood, pundits and car chases. I don’t need it.

New News Sources

I am far from uninformed. I read the news just about every day, spending at least ten minutes and as much as an hour scanning headlines and reading anything that seems interesting. I do almost all of my reading online. Google News is my primary source, but I also subscribe to feeds from a number of specific publications and many blogs. I would subscribe to my local papers’ news feeds, if they had them. Unfortunately. the two daily papers don’t seem to have much interest in allowing people to read their articles without being subjected to their ad-filled web sites. I don’t really blame them, but I don’t miss them either.

A Very Long Decline

Print journalism is in the middle stages of what I expect will be a very long decline. Newspaper readership has been dropping for many years now, but over the past couple years that drop has been accelerating. There is no reason to expect this drop to end any time soon. Sadder yet, newspapers are having trouble online as well. People aren’t just leaving their print version behind, they are leaving their online versions behind too. I am sure this is because of the focus on wire feeds and canned news. You can get that kind of news anywhere. In fact, you have to make a deliberate effort if you want to avoid it.

An Outdated Model

The biggest problem is the lack of real journalism. For years now, newspapers have been getting by on wire feeds from AP, Reuters and a variety of smaller news services. Back before the Internet, this model worked because a person in Tucson wouldn’t have access to a newspaper in San Antonio, so it didn’t matter if they ran the exact same stories. Now, however, all that duplicate national and international coverage can be accessed by anyone anywhere. Why read your local paper’s limited international section when you can access the news from anywhere in the world through the web. With Google News and other news aggregators, it is just as easy to find out the news in England from England as it is from your local paper. As for that AP article, it is repeated so endlessly online that you are bound to catch it too, if you bother to look.

Raw VS. Canned and Bland

Print journalists endlessly deride bloggers, and some of their criticisms are valid. Many, though by no means all, bloggers have less news experience and greater political and personal bias than newspaper reporters do. They make up for those shortcomings, however, by being more timely, more passionate, and more detailed in their coverage. The world of journalistic blogging (there are many blogs that have nothing to do with the news) is uneven, but when it is good, it is far better than the canned, bland news stories that the newspapers reprint. Because there are so many sources to choose from, it is easy to decide for yourself what is good and what is worth reading.

Decline and Rebirth

Newspapers are going to continue to decline in readership and relevance as long as they continue to follow the old model of wire stories and short, uninteresting local articles. The only reason to pick up a newspaper (or visit a newspaper’s website) in Fresno is to find out what happened in Fresno. Only newspapers that invest heavily in local coverage and allow their writers to spend more than 300 words on an article will be relevant as the years pass. That probably won’t happen until the giant corporations that own most newspapers lose interest in these now unprofitable entities and move on to other media. It is difficult to image any conglomeration of newspapers embracing individual voices and local reporting. Once it becomes unprofitable enough, however, I predict that as newspapers begin to fold and be sold, passionate local people will return to print. Until then, I’ll continue to get my news online.

10 thoughts on “Why Newspapers are Dying (and what they can do about it)

  1. So very true… and depressing. I’ve never actually seen ‘juicy’ news, but if you could provide an example to one of the blog journalists, or perhaps an article that you read and kept? If I ever go into journalism, (which I probably will, for some extra cash) it’d be nice to have example of good news. It’d also help me go against the system, which is always a bonus.

    Johnny Ms last blog post..The Anarchist Parade (cont)

  2. @ JoniB — Thanks

    @ Johnny M

    I don’t think i used the word Juicy, but one of my favorite analytical (and informational) blogs is Frakanomics.

    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/

    Yes, it is NOW a part of the New York Times, but it started independently. The Times was just smart enough to pay for it.

  3. Pingback: World Class Poetry Blog » Blog Archive » Introducing The Perfect Poem
  4. I sitll leaf through the newspaper for ads and the local classifieds. I watch the frontpage news for a quick overview on what’s “important”.

    But you’re right, the web is THE place to find latest and better news. I like the interactive nature of the web too.

    Besides, I hate having ink on my fingers and knowing so many trees are cut to deliver the news to me.

  5. Call me a Luddite, but I still enjoy the morning paper (and yep, my weekly Newsweek, too.) That’s why I was saddened today to read that the Washington Post was offering yet another round of buy-outs to staff, including some of my favorites and many of them assigned to local coverage as well as my beloved Stephen Hunter and other movie critics. I realize that newspapers have to find a new raison d’etre in today’s web-centric universe. So if the web delivers headlines (and mostly it’s a headline service) between than print, then what does print do better?

    When they figure it out – and I hope they do – I’ll be ready. (News without ink may be cleaner, but it’s a little soulless without the inky smudge.)

    Roberta Rosenbergs last blog post..Why using Twitter is like talking to my Mother-in-Law

  6. I agree Sarah. Those are Exactly the things you read a local paper for, which is why it is so frustrating that they cover those matters so poorly. In my city, Tucson, if you want any real political information, you have to go to the Tucson Weekly, a free rag that somehow manages to cover local politics better than either of the overpriced dailies.

  7. I agree that newspapers are struggling. If you live anywhere outside a major city, though, you should read your local newspaper. People are uninvolved in their hometowns. That’s often why, every so often, people show up at the normally poorly attended county council or zoning meetings to complain about something that has already become law.
    If you don’t want a landfill built across the street from your home, you’d better stay in touch with what’s happening in your community. Outside of attending each public meeting, the best way to get information about your area is to read your local newspaper.
    What happens locally has a much greater chance of directly affecting your life than what happens nationally.

  8. Exactly. I just wrote my master’s thesis on how these free weeklies are actually *better* at analyzing (and even, sometimes, covering) local issues. They are one of the few print media that aren’t dying off. They allow local citizens to weigh in on local issues and they often have a great web presence, to boot. Daily broadsheets need to take note.

    D.R. Bartlettes last blog post..How “historic” is this election?

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