Musings on the Death of the Newspaper Business
Trouble at the Chronicle (Scripting News) Dave Winer has some thoughts out on how to fix the newspaper business. Part of his remedy involves expanding the definition of who a journalist is. Dave suggests that in the future, “every educated person will be a journalist.”
He also argues that the newspaper business ought to embrace the best bloggers and actually have them publish under the paper’s authority. This would likely give additional legitimacy and credibility to key bloggers while driving more readership and advertising through some of the top bloggers out there.
Number two especially makes a lot of sense to me. Bloggers would like the additional exposure that a newspaper might give them and their reputation and increasingly bloggers know better how to drive traffic than the newspaper business.
I’ve got a background in journalism myself. Although I never went to journalism school, I worked as a writer, photographer, arts and entertainment editor, OP/ED editor and finally Editor-in-Chief of my college newspaper. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. It taught me about how to get public records, deal with the police and the courts system (we had a pretty grisly murder case by a school alum that we covered as well as a pretty high profile date rape case by a top international athlete at the school who ended up jumping bail).
It taught me the importance of objectivity when reporting news but also about how many very gray lines exist in the ethics of the gathering and publishing news business.
It was largely the fact that I missed journalism so much that attracted me to blogging. Blogging though is not journalism, at least not the way that I was taught journalism. Blogging is more like Gonzo journalism. It’s full of opinion and flamboyant writing that intertwines in and out of various news reports of fact. Fact checking is more lax overall with much of blog reporting correcting facts as readers respond.
Grammatical and spelling errors are much more tolerated in the blogosphere than in the traditional journalism that I was trained in.
Instead of having six or seven hours on a scoop now, blogging gives you six or seven minutes.
Where as a newspaper reporter might publish one or two well thought out articles a week, the most productive of bloggers can easily put out 6 to 7 shorter articles a day.
The newspaper business is definitely broken. I used to subscribe daily to The Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle. I’d always pick up a Sunday New York Times and spend a long and leisurely breakfast enjoying it. I’d read Rolling Stone and Forbes and Barons.
And now I don’t subscribe to any of them.
And even when I walk past the special promotion outside the BART station where someone is trying to give away a morning Chronicle I don’t take it. I don’t like the newsprint on my fingers and I know that I can get a much more customized and interesting reading experience for the day online through a mixture of news sites, digg, techmeme, blogs, twitter, flickr, zooomr, and many other places that my MacBook Pro will take me on any given day.
Especially with EVDO access my online news sources are never unavailable. They are more current than what is in the newspaper. They are more targeted towards what interests me. And most importantly, in many cases it’s interactive allowing me to interact through my blog.
I think there is still a place in the world for certain art type magazines. There is something about the aestheic of print that online still can’t quite touch. I love seeing my photos printed double page across in San Francisco Magazine. They look so much better than they do online. And I think things like JPG, which is very focused on the print aesthetics of photgraphy, are wonderful.
I’m certainly not the first person to say that the newspaper business is dead. Mike Arrington took a lot of shit for suggesting that the newspaper business was in trouble to their face late last year. The worst part about it is that some of the most wonderful people in the world work in the newspaper business. Some of the most genuine, interesting, and creative people forgo the big money, salaries and stock options to instead focus on doing something interesting, amazing that matters with their professional life. I’m not sure exactly where all of these people will end up, but I suspect that many of the best and brightest will simply migrate online as people like Om Malik and Matt Marshall have done.
In some ways I miss the romance of print journalism. It has a certain romance for me much like the smell of fixer and stop bath in the old darkroom. But those days are long gone and whether the newspaper industry admits it entirely yet or not there business is not just broken, it’s dead. And look, I buried the lead.