Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Slow Painful Death Of The Newspaper

It's no secret that the newspaper, atleast the newspaper as we know it, is dying. That much has been quite clear for a few years now, and the point was brought home last April when it was announced that American newspaper circulation fell 3.5% down to it's lowest level since 1946, despite the American population having essentially doubled over that same period-thus selling the same number of newspapers as 1946? Well, that's not a good thing buddy.

The reasons presented for this decline are myriad. Most people blame the internet (and by proxy our Blackberry's and iPhones) for providing instant access to news that is constantly updated and free. And while reading your phone in the restroom or during lunch isn't quite as appealing as a newspaper, it's something we're becoming accustomed too. Other people blame it on the rise of cable news networks and niche sports networks. After all, if you read the paper primarily for news-wouldn't CNN or FNC give you better information? And if you read it for sports, wouldn't the NFL Network, FSN, or even ESPN give you better information? (i hesitated to include ESPN there, as their product is so freaking bad, but I figured I had to). Others blame it on the quality of the newspapers, especially in places (such as Dallas) where there is but one newspaper holding a monopoly. I'm sure the actual reason for the decline is some blending of those, the rise of the blogosphere, and the general dumbing down of the American populace, but the why isn't as important as the simple fact that the newspaper as we know it is a dying industry.

Today we get word of the next step in the dying process, as the Dallas Morning News reports that they will now be sharing content with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a trend I'd expect to be picked up by other newspapers across the country where its possible. Beginning Feb 1, the DMN will have the beat for the Dallas Stars and the Dallas Mavericks whereas the FWST will have the beat for the Texas Rangers-and the two papers will share their beat writers and their articles (both papers will maintain separate coverage of the Dallas Cowboys, only because they're what people actually care about in Dallas). They will also share their coverage of college sports and some individual sporting events. The decision was of course made to cut costs for the papers in the face of shrinking revenue.

You might ask, well why is this that big a deal? I mean it's just sports, right? Well first off, most of the "news" in a newspaper isn't produced by the newspaper itself, but instead taken off the AP or another wire. Outside of local news, columnists, and articles of interest-sports is the bulk of the original material a newspaper produces. So to be slashing that, well that's a pretty big deal. I'd also present to you that sports and business are the two biggest reasons the average consumer picks up a newspaper. While that bombing in Gaza or those potholes down the street might interest you, they I believe generally interest you less than your stock portfolio, the general economy, or what your sports team of choice did yesterday. So again, this is a pretty big deal.

In equally grim news on the newspaper front, it's also been announced that the Seattle Post Intelligencer has been put up for sale and will close unless a buyer is found (unlikely). Likewise Colorado's oldest newspaper, The Rockie Mountain News, has also been put up for sale and will likely close as well.

I'm quite the hypocrite on this subject. I love the newspaper and am sad at the prospect of losing them, but then like most people I rarely buy them. Sure if I grab a bagel for breakfast or am having a long lunch I will get one, but generally I too get the bulk of my news online. And of course while doing this, I don't click on any of the ads that would generate revenue for the newspaper (as little as it is), because let's face it-who actually clicks on banner ads? Furthermore, if I am looking for local news I will head over to Unfair Park (where much more honest journalism exists than you'll ever find in the DMN) and while I may read the local sports beat writers, their articles generally reak of knee-jerk reactions and are usually overtly simplistic, with much better sports discussion found elsewhere online. If it's business I'm after, I flip on the TV. The point is, I think I love the nostalgia of the newspaper-the memories of reading it as a child over a bowl of Cheerios or reading the Sunday edition-far more than I actually love the newspaper as it currently exists. I find myself thinking I like it far more than I actually do, and while I will miss the occasional good article my local newspaper gives me that I can't get elsewhere (and they are rare.....), I can't say that I'd miss it enough to actually subscribe or buy more than maybe a paper a week.

Change can be scary by definition, but I just don't see any other way. It's simply an outdated industry, as sad as that sounds.

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