Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Future of Newspapers

I am developing a love-hate relationship with traditional newspapers. Not too long ago I would read two or three “hard copy” newspapers each day. I read The Cincinnati Enquirer to keep up on what was happening in our area. A daily read of The Wall Street Journal was more for the in-depth reporting of significant national and international issues than for gaining any financial insight. I read The New York Times as a moderating voice to offset the leanings of the Journal. More and more I find myself drifting away from the traditional “paper and ink” format to online.

The publishers of these newspapers are not helping to keep my allegiance. The Enquirer in November sent me a notice informing me that the paper on Thanksgiving Day would be priced as a Sunday edition since it was going to be very large. Let me get this straight: I pay more because they were successful in getting more advertisements aimed at getting me to spend more money. Now our friends at Gannett inform us that the paper will soon be in a format akin to a comic book than a newspaper.

The folks at The Wall Street Journal were not much better in 2011. After almost 20 years of paying for a print subscription, the process of getting the paper to the front door of my office each morning seemed to have become too complicated, so I dropped it. Don’t get me started on the hours I spent on the phone trying to get my printed subscription converted to an on-line subscription.

Now I have to say, I have so far been lucky as the folks at The New York Times have yet to cancel my online access to the paper via my smart phone. I have several colleagues who have lost access as the Times converted to a paid subscription model only.

While all of this might sound like the insignificant complaints of an aging boomer, in reality I am worried about these trends. The Internet’s immediacy, reach, and efficiency can provide valuable news reporting but such reporting does require adequate funding and a viable business model. Today, looking through the news websites you quickly find that many are aggregating reports from major traditional newspapers and wire services. If those companies continue to shrink, where will this reporting come from?

For sure there is a place for the citizen journalist. This fact continues to be demonstrated with events in Syria and last year in Egypt and Libya. The amount of information that citizens of a democracy need to know increases daily, but it is like drinking from a fire hydrant. Having newspaper professionals do the heavy lifting of gathering, synthesizing and reporting is critical. For this to happen will require the traditional press to figure out a viable business model so they can convert to digital delivery while maintaining the integrity and value of the old model. So far this seems to be an elusive quest.

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