03/02/09 - posted by jb
Well, Paul Judge forced me to pass through the SF Gate, monsters and all, and I stumbled onto a piece by Mick LaSalle that seems worth passing on. Since it is hidden amongst some movie reviews, I am taking the liberty to post it here. Seems I take more liberties than Kelly and Sinatra "On the Town." Hope you all can "grok" this and it is on topic.

The Future of the Daily Newspaper, Part 1

If you work in the buggy whip business and somebody invents the automobile, you just have to accept that your job has become obsolete. You need to get out of it and re-tool your factory to make gloves or coats or exotic lingerie. Nobody needs or wants what you're selling, anymore.

But this analogy has no application to the crisis that newspapers are facing.

The Internet has challenged the existence of newspapers, and yet Internet news and arts commentary runs and is founded on the journalism that people do at newspapers. Go to any of the popular sites and click on one of their headlines, and it will almost always take you to a newspaper web site -- or to a commentary based on news broken at a daily newspaper.

Meanwhile the web sites are thriving and the journalists who break the stories -- and whose work is in as much demand (or more demand) as ever -- are thought of as obsolete and face the very real possibility of being out of business. Even as the public devours the work of print journalists, you can find articles in magazines discussing the possibility of even the New York Times disappearing.

The problem is throughout the industry. At the beginning of this decade, the Chronicle was the 11th biggest daily in the United States, with a circulation topping out at 650,000. Today it has about half that circulation . . . and yet it's the 12th biggest daily in the United States. So the suffering is nationwide.

The newspaper business is up against two things:

1) More and more people are coming to enjoy sitting at the computer with a cup of coffee in the morning as much as they used to enjoy reading the physical paper at the breakfast table, like Ricky Ricardo in the 1950s.

2) More and more people have come to expect this as a free service, even though it's not free.

This "free" notion has become such an article of faith among some people that they become outraged at the very notion of paying for content on the web. Some actually think you really don't need journalists, just concerned citizens with video cameras, as though catching a Senator calling someone "macaca" every few years can replace the nuts and bolts work of research, foot work and analysis.

Or they think that web advertising can pay the salaries of the professionals needed to provide this content. That's a fantasy.

In any case, newspapers across the country, trying hard to keep pace, have adopted a business model that every journalist, newspaper executive and probably any four year old knows is a recipe for oblivion: Basically, every newspaper these days offers its product for free on the street but says that if you want to come inside the store, you have to pay a dollar. Obviously, this won't work, and yet newspapers can't close down their own web sites, either, because other newspapers have web sites. And the web sites provide at least some revenue.

The bottom line is that people are not rejecting the product. They are rejecting either the traditional means of conveyance or the prospect of paying for it. So the question is, how do you get them to pay for it -- how do you find a workable, lucrative business model, taking in people's growing preference for the Internet -- before every newspaper disappears?

I don't pretend to be an expert, but I think there must be a solution, given the fact that we are not selling buggy whips, that the public wants and needs what we're offering. My guess is that the solution, however it comes, will require legislation, an assist from technology and cooperation among the various newspaper organizations.

Let's take a weekend to contemplate this.

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