I can’t remember the last time I picked up a printed copy of a newspaper. I don’t seem to be the only one in that category, either. Newspapers are shutting left and right. Why?
They simply don’t provide what we, the information-consuming public, want, in the way that we want it. Namely, yesterday. We’re in a ‘breaking news’ information world.
When the US Navy rescued Captain Phillips, news-hungry interneters knew about it within hours, if not minutes. When the earthquake struck Italy, the world was mobilizing to help almost immediately.
That kind of news delivery doesn’t, can’t, happen with a newspaper.
Some people lament the closing of newspapers as ‘a decline in society’. Where will we be, they ask, when the local newspaper prints its last daily edition?
No, I’m not oblivious to the fact that people who work in the newsrooms will likely lose their jobs. I’m aware that the pressman is very worried that he has worked a lifetime to master a fading technology and has no other skill to substitute. I’m relatively certain that buggy-whip craftsmen felt the same way.
So in that respect, about the people, I do care. But about newspapers as an ‘institution’? Nope.
I don’t know that print newspapers will survive. I definitely don’t think of them as venerable, ‘must have’ institutions that need to be propped up and kept in some sort of zombie limbo by government bailout or capital injection. I know that the companies that run the newsrooms will survive, providing that they re-invent themselves to provide what we want, when we want it, in the way that we want it.
This little missive was inspired by an article by L. Gordon Crovitz in today’s Wall Street Journal (ONLINE!) that detailed the reinvention of that paper by managing editor Barney Kilgore. The WSJ was in trouble. Their monopoly on providing market information to the financial world was gone. Investors and market-watchers were able to get stock pricing immediately. What did Mr. Kilgore do?
Kilgore observed that then new media such as radio meant market news was available in real time. Some cities had a dozen newspapers that had gained the Journal’s once-valuable ability to report share prices.
The Journal had to change. Technology increasingly meant readers would know the basic facts of news as it happened. He announced, “It doesn’t have to have happened yesterday to be news,” and said that people were more interested in what would happen tomorrow. He crafted the front page “What’s News — ” column to summarize what had happened, but focused on explaining what the news meant.
On the morning after Pearl Harbor, other newspapers recounted the facts already known to all the day before through radio. The Journal’s page-one story instead began, “War with Japan means industrial revolution in the United States.” It outlined the implications for the economy, industry and commodity and financial markets.
Kilgore led the Journal’s circulation to one million by the 1960s from 33,000 in the 1940s by adapting the newspaper to a role reflecting how people used different media for news. His rallying cry was, “The easiest thing in the world for a reader to do is to stop reading.”
Even after radio and TV began delivering news in ‘real time’, newspapers survived. Newspapers provided a depth of information that couldn’t be provided in sound bites and video segments.
The internet, obviously, is the game changer.
There is, of course, the question of just who will do the reporting if/when the big papers close. I don’t have a worry of that. If there is a vacuum in the marketplace, some entrepeneur somewhere will move to fill it. “How,” people ask, “will any company be able to pay for a reporter or analyst to be on-scene when everything is moving toward free content on the internet?”
It might happen that way. But one thing I’m sure of – if people don’t get the information they want in the way they want it, for free, they’ll pay for it. Eventually. It may take some scarcity in the news marketplace for people to realize that if they want timely, accurate information and analysis they’ll have to pay for it. But if it’s needed, it will happen, sooner or later.