The newsprint newspaper is DEAD!  Let it die!  Bury it.  Let the bugs and worms eat the decaying pulp and let’s move on with our lives and getting the news quick, fast, and deadly on the internet.  As an online author and itinerant publisher, it is delicious to watch the traditional media bandwagon crumble under the weight of their new irrelevancy.  They have their worry beads in hand and their self-flagellation in process and they aren’t waiting to sound their own public death knell on your front stoop and in your mailbox:


The newspaper needs to quickly go away or it risks the tainting of more irreverent news delivery memes like the Kindle 2 and the internets.  You can currently purchase 31 newspapers and 22 magazines for wireless delivery to your Kindle.  The want for information isn’t dead.  The traditional pipe that feeds us what we want is rusted and wanting.  We still want news — we just don’t want newspapers!

The greatest example of this sea change between paper and pixels can be seen on any public transportation bus or train.  Where once people used to fold up their newspapers and read them — filthy-fingered and shoulder-width with elbows poking commuter neighbors on each side — now a single hand, ink-clean and pristine, is held tight against the body and the elbow is angled inward order to keep hold of the $200.00USD cellphone or the $400.00USD iPhone for reading news and playing games. 

As the content container shrinks, so too, does the body accessing the information.

If I didn’t know better — and if my irony sensor wasn’t so keenly attuned to sussing out online b.s. — I’d wager the following was written by The Onion instead of being a really “real” business plan that makes one snigger even in the immediate reading:

Here’s the proposition: Print a newspaper of blog posts and then distribute it for free! That’s what Chicago startup The Printed Blog is doing, starting next Tuesday in Chicago and San Francisco. Founder and publisher Joshua Karp tells the NY Times, “We are trying to be the first daily newspaper comprised entirely of blogs and other user-generated content. There were so many techniques that I’ve seen working online that maybe I could apply to the print industry.”

What a total crock!  The major media hate blogging and the creation of online user content because we threaten their deathlock on the news.  How crazy is that to have virtually published blogs reprinted on the
dead media of newspapers to save newspapers from their outdated
business plan of publishing something nobody wants to read?

The internet has freed information, not repressed it, and we are no longer beholden to the tiny empires of the local newsprint publisher.  We can protest against Bush, we can wage war with those that wage war and we can fight our hometown City Hall from 3,000 miles away.  News is expanding, not compressing, but paper only stretches so far while the pixel is infinite in its reach and in its capacity for evergreen propagation.

If people wanted to read newspapers, there would be no newspaper crisis!  The eyes decide and the eyeballs are all turning virtual because it is better, faster, and cleaner to get your news in seconds than once-a-day.

Here’s another wacky plan to save the local paper:  Publish it on a cellphone!

Verve Wireless’s mission is to save the local paper by making it
mobile. It provides publishers with the technology to create mobile Web
sites, so readers can read the paper on their cell phones. Verve or the
newspaper then sell ads on those sites. Verve already powers mobile
versions of 4,000 newspapers from 140 publishers, including The
Associated Press, McClatchy, and the New York Times Regional Media
Group.

Okay, so they don’t get it, either. We don’t want to read our local newspaper on our cellphone.
Local news has become the gossip on the street as evidenced in my Midwestern hometown newspaper.

Here’s the “front page” on my hometown newspaper found online this morning. There’s no hard reporting. There’s no investigative journalism. There’s nothing of value except sappy stories about locals trying to build a life in a dying economy:

I don’t understand why my hometown newspaper is even in the “news biz” because they only publish what is told to them. There is no critical analysis of memes and values or any sort of questioning of authority. There is only kowtowing to the police and the local mayoralty and reverence for the football team and that does not a newspaper make.

The “lifestyle news” reporters should all be impaled on wooden skewers and sold at the State Fair as “Cheese on a Stick” because that is precisely the sort of writing they’re trying to pass off as investigative journalism.

It isn’t just the little hometown newspapers bleeding red ink, the Big Boys are also deservedly tasting their just and bitter ends as the Wall Street Journal dies on the publication vine: 

NEW YORK, Feb 6 (Reuters) – Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (NWSA.O) wrote down half the value of Wall Street Journal parent Dow Jones & Co, which it bought for $5.6 billion in 2007, according to a U.S. regulatory filing on Friday.

The company said in a separate statement that it plans to save an additional $40 million at Dow Jones in the fiscal year ending in June 2010. That would be on top of $100 million in costs savings implemented since buying Dow Jones in 2007, News Corp said.

The Chicago Tribune is also up for grabs in job cuts:

CHICAGO (AP) — The publisher of the financially struggling Chicago Tribune Media Group says the company plans to cut jobs, freeze wages and increase prices for home subscribers to help offset a decline in revenue.

In a wonderful, if uncomfortably self-revelatory story, the NYTimes tried to create a “Battle Plan” for saving the local dailies — but the end result was one of rancor and desperation:

In some cities, midsized metropolitan papers may not survive to year’s end. The owners of the Rocky Mountain News and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer have warned that those papers could shut down if they can’t find buyers soon. The Star Tribune of Minneapolis recently filed for bankruptcy. The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News will soon stop home delivery four days of the week to cut operating costs. Gannett, which owns 85 daily newspapers in this country, recently said it would require most of its 31,000 employees to take a week of unpaid leave.

In a prescient Opinion piece for the NYTimes two days ago, editor Michael Kinsley touches upon the truths of the dying newspaper wooly mammoths: Micropayments are not a pulp savior.

Micropayments are systems that make it easy to pay small amounts of money. (Your subway card is an example.) You could pay a nickel to read an article, or a dime for a whole day’s newspaper.

Newspaper readers have never paid for the content (words and photos). What they have paid for is the paper that content is printed on. A week of The Washington Post weighs about eight pounds and costs $1.81 for new subscribers, home-delivered. With newsprint (that’s the paper, not the ink) costing around $750 a metric ton, or 34 cents a pound, Post subscribers are getting almost a dollar’s worth of paper free every week — not to mention the ink, the delivery, etc. The Times is more svelte and more expensive. It might even have a viable business model if it could sell the paper with nothing written on it. A more promising idea is the opposite: give away the content without the paper. In theory, a reader who stops paying for the physical paper but continues to read the content online is doing the publisher a favor.

If the only effect of the Internet on newspapers was a drastic reduction in their distribution costs, publishers could probably keep a bit of that savings, rather than passing all of it and more on to the readers. But the Internet has also increased competition — not just from new media but among newspapers as well. Or rather, it has introduced competition into an industry legendary for its monopoly power.

Kinsley rightly makes the hard point that you were never paying for news in your newspaper; you were paying for the paper the news was printed on. 

If the news has always been free, was it ever right to monetize it for profit?  Should a buck be made on the delivery of the truth; or do we somehow place a higher value on facts presented by those who are paid to check and double-check sources?

The fight for the righteousness local newspaper was lost over the last eight years as lies were told to us by our national leaders about the war in Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the financial viability of our future — and the newspaper refused to surgically redact the truth from the lie. 

When the newspaper fails to do their Fourth Estate watchdog job, then they only become irrelevant lapdogs to those craving to stay in power and, for a century, we were all left blind in the world of light because the limits of local newsprint kept us all disabled an in line.

Self-publishing changed the dynamic.  Blogging erupted the lie.

Even if the local paper decides to live online only for free, it is still dead and costly to us.  We’ve matured beyond the strain of the hometown news and we now understand a thousands truths are better than a single lie.  The massiveness of the world ether has smothered the local publisher in its tintype boxes and local web servers.  We’ve moved on without the local know-nothings and we’re severing all the dying ties that used to bind.

Now, with the freedom of the internet, and with our renewed ability to research the hard truth and compare one idea against another in real time, we have all come to the tough conclusion together that paying for paper with lies printed on it has zero value in the human need to know the truth of what matters — and the only way to really gather that memeingful verity is to collude with the same-minded and the opposite-intended to continually test, all day long, our values, our beliefs and our sacred idols — and the worldly pixel will always puncture neighborhood paper in that quest for self-revelation in the fight for the unvarnished and not-for-profit truth.

21 Comments

  1. I’m surprised that this hasn’t happened sooner. Still, there’s nothing like stretching out on a couch and enjoying a physical newspaper. There’s something about that experience that I haven’t found in the Kindle.

  2. Gordon —
    The local newspaper wrote its own demise by becoming a vacuum of vapidity. There was little news breaking or reporting and lots of copying and republishing. If you lose your vital edge, then people will look elsewhere and that’s what happened with the explosion of the internet.

  3. Okay, Anne. How much do you pay for your PennySaver?
    Exactly.
    The benefit to you is not in the subscription or the purchase — or even in the local revelations — but in a universal, native, content you can convert into personal benefit.

  4. people who grew up reading newspapers are still, generally speaking, still reading them, according to Deloitte’s Media in Democracy study. Some of them are even reading news on online newspaper sites. Younger readers, however, have no interest in newspapers online or in print; they get their news through aggrgators or their browsers. The problem there is that they only read headlines and maybe a paragraph or two. Print is still the best medium for long-form stories and books, though Kindle2 and the upcoming Plastic Logic reader could change that, since they are based on electrophoretic technology, making the experience more like reading in print than on a backlit lcd screen. I would suggest that newspapers’ main problem is with advertising. While advertisers valued the numbers of subscribers newspapers could guarantee them in print, there’s no equivalent value online. Publishers still haven’t figured out that while they control distibution in print, online the customer is in control. That will be their downfall

  5. That’s an interesting comment, Chuck. If you have a link to the Deloitte research, we’d love to it it.
    What you describe is my experience. I keep checking my hometown newspaper for some sort of interesting newsmaking — and all I come away with is disappointment and sappy character studies. I keep wondering why I bother…
    Local televisions stations seem to have an upper hand over local newsprint: They don’t charge people for content and they make money on the broadcast with the same advertiser base. Perhaps seeing is better than reading.
    As textbooks become untenable at $100 per book — ebooks will temporarily bring the price down in the paradigm shift from paper to pixel and then — in five years or so, the ebook version, more convenient, easier to lug around, and more fun to “mark up” will double the price of the previously printed copy. That’s Amazon’s ingenious game plan and they’re right on the cusp of taking over the entire ebook industry — especially since Apple doesn’t seem keen to play in the niche.
    I want my ebook reader as thin as a page of paper. I don’t want “paperback bulk.” I want a single, endless, “turnable” sheet that I can fold, roll up and stick in my shoe for later reading.

  6. David, I’d be happy to send you a piece I wrote for The Seybold Report that includes Deloitte’s data, along with an interview with the author. The same issue includes a more optimistic piece about how a local newspaper can use social networking during an emergency to help a community weather the storm, so to speak. What’s the best way to get it to you?
    Cheers
    Chuck

  7. Gordon!
    Yes, getting the new Kindle is simple math: 100% x 2 = K2s for Janna and me!
    I ordered them the moment I could from the Amazon.com website and they should both be here on Feb. 25.
    I like the new design, the better battery, the faster page turning, the thinner size and the upgrade from 4 to 16 shades of pale… err… grey… SMILE!
    Here’s the Plastic Logic reader Chuck mentioned earlier:
    http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2009/02/a-reader-the-ki.html
    Looks very keen and probably more foldable sooner than any Kindle to come!

  8. I know what you are talking about David, I can consider myself an succesful example of the evolution from paper to ether!
    I was always a “news” fan, mostly in the readable format and I remember subscribing 3 national newspaper daily and reading NYtimes, HBR, The Guardian etc. in the BCL (British Council Library) or USIS (United States Information Service) library.
    Things changed when started reading all the newspaper and magazine online…at first I kind of missed the paper version but gradually got used to it…I still read everything online!

  9. I agree that newspapers as they are today are not sustainable- too much fluff and they drive away their base of news-junkies, too little and they will lose the people who subscribe for the experience of the paper.
    I am not so sure that the internet and user-created content will be able to fill the shoes newspapers would leave behind. The average blogger is not going to have the resources needed to maintain offices in foreign countries or engage in full-time investigative journalism. Television news does have the resources, but tends towards shorter, less detailed pieces that you would find in a newspaper or a blog. I would love it if bloggers had the resources to totally replace the newspaper, if only because then we’d get the news that wasn’t Murdoch-approved, but I’m not convinced that that can realistically happen.
    There is a credibility issue with blogs. Because the newspapers are such monolithic organizations, they are under a lot of scrutiny. If the New York Times prints a factual error, people will notice and complain and force the Times to retract the statement. If news was reported by hundreds or thousands of independent bloggers, there would be more information available, but it would be much more difficult to prevent or identify misinformation. I think this extra level of accountability is also why newspaper tend to be less partisan than newsblogs. The fourth estate isn’t what it used to be, but I’m not ready to give up on it.
    –Lilly

  10. You make fine points, liminal.
    I think the key to correct publishing, be it a magazine, newspaper or blog, is to have a clear chain of accountability and editorial vision. The more eyes on the words, the better the end result — and appropriate and functional commenters can play a valuable role in providing a necessary check and balance against the argument of an article or “factual” news reporting.
    When we write an article in the Boles Blogs Network, we always use reliable outside resources to inform and support the argument our articles. We don’t use resources like Wikipedia to back us up. That reader ability to cross-check our support is important for independent verification.
    I’m not sure if we need to have tentacles that stretch into foreign lands to understand a landscape we cannot see or touch — that’s why we have local people on scene to draw us into the reality of their work experience.

  11. perhaps the proper role for the newspaper, at least in part, might be to accumulate and aggregate information from disparate sources, even (gasp) citizen journalist, and vet them for accuracy, as Al Jazeera does

  12. Chuck!
    I can’t wait to read your next article arguing local newspapers must become Al Jazeera in order to survive! SMILE!
    I loved your article Chuck, thank you for sending it to me.
    I believe the disconnect between the young and the old is one of learning and reading and writing. There used to be a strong standard for communicating in “proper English.” Drawing correct sentences. Following established construction. Creating universal meaning.
    Today, anything goes. Kids don’t know what to think critically about anything because they were never taught how to create a written argument based on facts and truths beyond their limited knowing and then express that thought flow in writing. They are not interested in reading that leads to thinking. They want to be told what to think so they can riff off it or rebel against it. Original, substantial, intellectualism does not hold memeing for them. They are the generation of the acted upon and they closely followed the generation of the acting out.
    The fact that the young have become passive consumers of “stuff” on the internet is striking, but not surprising based on their lack of intellectual collectivism and their inability to express themselves beyond text speak and a 140 character Twitter blast.
    I was disappointed to learn in your article’s conclusion that 94% of respondents in the Deloitte study are merely using the internet for searching — “watching/listening to content created by others” — and I wonder why that passivity is so pervasive. Where is the proactive thinking that sparks thought and creates content?
    If the search engines disappeared tomorrow — where would be be? Would we be incapable of making a decision on our own? Would someone create an index page of related entries that would recreate the search experience? Or would we all be forced to find a better, smarter, way of independently thinking against each other to form the will of us?