July 27, 2009

What is killing newspapers?

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:42 am by R

It’s safe to say we know that newspapers are a terminally ill institution. But for the sake of learning from a mistake instead of being doomed to repeat it, it’s important to ask “Why?”

I was directed to an excellent essay by Tim Connor by @mike_padgett. The essay, “Who’s Killing the Newspapers?”, is a hard look at how newspapers themselves contributed to their own demise.

We know already that a generational shift in the way people choose to procure their news robbed newspapers of their strength. But Connor supposes some other internal and fundamental factors dealt some of the biggest blows to bring the industry where it is now.

First some facts that caused me to lift my eyebrows:

  1. A 2006 Pew Internet & Life Study found that 43 percent of people read an actual newspaper. In the 2008 edition of the same survey only 39 percent do
  2. Since 2007, approximately 12,000 journalists have lost their jobs
  3. According to Pew, in 2008 90 percent of newspaper revenue came from print advertising

It’s the third fact that really struck me and also happens to be the impetus for one of the reasons Connor feels newspapers have contributed to their own sorry state. It stands to reason that with 90 percent of newspaper revenues coming from advertisers, newspapers probably don’t want those generous sponsors being irked by certain kinds of coverage.

Such in-the-pocket reporting is tantamount to Yellow Journalism and the corporate dictates mandating it are a flat out insult to the reporters dedicated to communicating an honest story to the public. But the fact is, this beholden relationship is rampant.

Connor points to an article in the Columbia Journalism Review called Blindness: How the business press missed the meltdown. This article points to the business press (it’s a blanket term, though there are a number of media outlets who do not fall into the following definition) who spent their time cheering the markets onward and upward in stead of doing their due diligence for the American public and uncovering the unethical practices and forecasting the fallout which soon resulted.

This corporate cautious reporting marred the face of the industry in a great many cases. And in combination with the generational shift and a movement toward a paperless (eco, I mean) lifestyle, how is it possible for newspaper to survive?

From where I stand, it’s not.

Media corporations must find a way to monetize the product they create in a way that does not hold them subservient to any company — not only for their business survival, but to re-establish trust as well.

If a media outlet had outstanding and varied reporting that represented multiple views and exposed me to issues and goings-on I might never find out about otherwise, why that’s excellent journalism, which I would gladly support and subscribe to with my dollars.

It’s one solution. I’m sure there are brilliant thinkers out there who are coming up with more lucrative and streamlined ways of creating revenue that would never occur to me.

The bottom line is (pun intended), newspapers may be dying away, but solid, honest journalism most certainly shouldn’t be.

~R

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