Michael Kinsley — who gave up a prestigious print job to run Slate.com magazine way back during the first Internet bubble and has since gone back to the print world — has a nice column in Slate and the Washington Post. about the death of newspapers, entitled “Black, White and Dead All Over.”
The piece — which Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine calls “cute” (although I’m not sure that’s a compliment) — does a nice job of describing how absurd the newspaper business seems now, cutting down trees and mashing them into pulp and printing stuff on them, then shipping them to people’s doorsteps in little plastic bags, all so they can throw 80 per cent of it in the garbage.
Kinsley’s essay is a little short on solutions, although he does mention that newspapers “have got the content.” Jeff does a better job of putting his finger on the light at the end of the tunnel in his post, in which he points out that newspapers have a chance to remain relevant provided they realize that “this is about control, about finding, packaging, editing, judging sources on our own.”
It’s interesting to note that while newspaper readership is declining, online news readership continues to grow. It still isn’t making up for the decline, however, and online readers still aren’t worth as much as print readers, but they are growing. And newspapers had better get them while they’re young.
My friend Stuart asked me whether I thought newspapers are dying, and here’s what I told him: I don’t think newspapers are dying, any more than radio is dead. That said, however, radio isn’t exactly a thriving medium, and neither are newspapers. I think the Internet has just increased the pressures that were already weighing on the newspaper business from television and other factors competing for people’s attention — and in a way I think the Internet offers a way out of the cul-de-sac papers are in.
I think there will always be people who read the newspaper, and want to read the newspaper — but there are likely to be fewer of them (just as there are fewer people who sit and listen to the radio every chance they get). But if anything there’s an even greater appetite for information and relevance and context, and that’s what journalism is designed to provide. Whether it’s done in paper or on the Internet isn’t really the point, it seems to me. But if newspapers don’t get doing it, then someone else will. And I think that’s Jeff’s point as well.