Newspapers on Their Last Presses?

Grim day for the print media. I woke up today I found a post titled “The Last Presses” by Jeff Jarvis about the looming death of the print industry. Jarvis is apparently a media analyst and it seems he’s not far off. There is a lot that I could say about this article because it touches on a lot of stuff I am interested in. I work with The Daily Collegian, helping prepare and develop their transition into the web. I am also a big web news consumer, which I think gives me an idea of what readers are looking for. So here are some of my thoughts on the future of print and the web.

Content Relationships. He talks a lot about the fact that content is not king, but relationships are. I question this somewhat, but there is some truth to it. I think people take an interest in where their news comes from and the blogosphere has clearly opened up the lines of communication between reader and writer. As part of my project with the Collegian, we have been pushing the idea of having Facebook-esque profiles for writers with a listing of their stories and a little background info. Especially in a college paper, I think people are curious about the writers. We have also talked about adding a feedback/comments section mechanism to stories, but we’re weary of what sort of discussion would come out of that. Besides, even the print media has a feedback mechanism – its called the Opinions page.

Knight Ridder and Philly. One of the topics of the posting is the fact that Knight Ridder, American newspaper conglomerate, is planning a sale. It is speculated that the Philadelphia Daily News would be among the casualties. This would be a real shame, because I think the Daily News is an interesting and often times more locally-relevant paper than the Inquirer. It’s also a shame because has been one of the more ambitious online newspaper transitions in the Internet’s heyday. Unfortunately after the bust, it fell more in line with the rest of Knight Ridder’s Real Cities properties. I wonder what the site would look like if they continued to go it their own today, rather than joining the fold.

Future journalism. Jarvis seems to be suggesting that online journalism, based on relationships with readers is the future. He seems to be vaguely pointing to blogs, but probably even more than that. Ain’t It Cool News or Slashdot are also definitive online publications that do this. My fear though is where does the accountability come from? This recent Wikipedia scandal indicates to me that the web community may not be able to police itself. A Microsoft rep once said, defending paid software, that when security is everyone’s problem its no one’s problem. While I think open-source projects do a good job of policing themselves, their loose associations make them vulnerable to error. Even scarier, with many partisan blogs reporting their versions of the news, I fear journalsim could become even more diluted into spin rather than truth.

I think we will see a lot of changes ahead in the newspaper industry. I also do not prophetize the death of print or anything like that. I think people will always want to pick up papers, at least until we get digital ink or something. But we may get to a point sooner, rather than later, where print is repurposing web content and not the other way around.

I think newspapers need to start looking at the web and giving it a fresh set of eyes. Start with putting up your stories in real time, than grow your features out from there. I still thing content is important – reading a New York Times article is a lot better than reading my blog. I think the web paper is more than just articles and publishers need to start acting on that sooner rather than later.

P.S. Oddly enough, the Collegian itself ran an article on pixels over print. It wasn’t very deep, mostly talking about younger people reading more online than in print. They didn’t really draw any conclusions about what it means for the newspaper industry though, or what the Collegian is doing to address the problem.

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