Saturday, February 9, 2008

Whither the Newspaper??

I've been reading newspapers since I was 7 years old. I first began reading the paper to follow the fortune of my then beloved Boston Red Sox. My baseball loyalties have
changed since then but my love of newspapers persists. I have subscribed to a daily paper every day of my adult life. It has been part of my morning ritual for as long as I remember.
But I wonder. My habits are changing. I work in the "Information Technology" field and sit in front of a computer all day. Nowadays, on a work day, I often never remove the paper from its bag. Instead, while at work, I'll multi-task. I'll have the online version of the paper up while I do my other chores.
I've always liked columnists. Most of the time, I already know the basic news via radio, tv, conversation, etc. So I generally find the dry, just the facts style of the front page stories dull. But I love to read people's opinions and views on the issues and stories. I love that the columnists all have their own individual styles and perspectives. I believe that the columnists are what distinguishes one paper from another.
However, often over the past year, the thought has occurred to me while I blogged, that I and all of you bloggers out there, have become do it yourself columnists. Granted many (most?) of us are boring and have a limited outlook. But there's lots of good stuff. I participate in a Washington Wizards blog and find that the guys who run it are as knowledgeable about the team as many of the so-called "national" media. They know more about who is on the team, who is playing well, substitution patterns, etc. than the guys at the anchor desk of ESPN. Plus they have a fan's passion like myself. I read other folks' blogs also. Most are of the daily life variety, but some are quite entertaining. Certainly, I derive much of the same pleasure from blogs as I do from columnists.
Every now and then, I hear people complaining about Americans being out of touch and not being informed. This stuns me. OMG, we're inundated with "news" from the moment we wake up until bedtime. There are at least 3 24 hour cable new operations. Sports news is available round the clock also. In Washington, each local station has a morning news show, at least 2 hours of evening news, plus the 11:00 PM edition. Sorry, there's not enough going on to warrant this amount of "news" programming. The point is that I no longer need the newspaper to keep up with the basics. By the time I pick up my paper and look at the headlines, I've already seen or heard it at least a couple of times. This morning I perused the sports section and quickly determined that the Wizards game at Denver score did not make it into the paper. So I immediately headed online to find out how and by how much we lost.
So what's the future for the world of daily news journalism? What unique services do they still provide that haven't been overtaken by the chaotic world of the internet?
Well certainly they still retain their subcribers, reputation and access. I'm a blogger with a readership of 1. I'm not going to be able to score an interview with Barrack Obama, Mitt Romney, Lindsay Lohan, or Gilbert Arenas. Well, Gilbert maybe (click this link for an interesting story about Gil, the internet, and access). But the major newspapers still have the influence, resources (well, maybe) and reputation to secure access to people and events. Also, there's community. A good newspaper becomes entwined with the community they serve. That's unlikely to happen via an online only approach. Then there's the brand name. Without the hard copy version of the paper, how (and why) would people find their way to the online edition.
So I'm convinced that we still need the newspaper in some form, but that form has to become some sort of paper/online hybrid. I have no clue whether a profitable economic model can be devised from this hybrid. I've always been skeptical of the power of internet advertising. I don't believe that I'm particularly influenced by it, so I'm not sure if it has nearly the draw of a newspaper ad or flyer. But I love that the internet version of the paper allows me to interact with the writers, columnists, and readers. The Washington Post offers daily chats and I love them. I've had my posts and questions answered by Michael Wilbon, Gene Weingarten, Mark Fisher, and Carolyn Hax. Talk about validation! I've had the Post metro columnist (Fisher) say "good point" to something I said. I've had one of the premier advice columnists in the country (Hax) agree with me. Very, very cool.
But these people wouldn't have their audience or forum without the reputation and influence of their employer. Can this authority, credibility, and reputation be built in an online only world. Is it possible for AOL sports and Yahoo sports to replace my local sports page? Is it possible for an online facsimile of the local newspaper to emerge in the thousands of communities across the country served by a paper edition ? I don't know. I can't wait to find out.

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