The rebirth of news

May 22, 2009

Note from SB, ThinkInk PR

This great piece from The Economist last week touched on a topic that is very near and dear to us at Thinkink: the future of the daily newspaper.  While we think Detroit is probably the frontrunner to be the first major American city without a newspaper (the Free Press went down to 4 printings a week a while ago), we agree with most of the assessments made in this article.  We have been closely monitoring the plight of the US newspaper industry with empathy tinged only slightly with cautious optimism, in fact, Vanessa Horwell, our Chief Visibility Officer, identified the micropayments trend in her March article for Mobile Marketer (no, the irony of writing about the death of print in a strictly-online publication dedicated to the advancement of the mobile channel has not escaped us). Her article also echoed The Economist’s position that the both process of newsgathering and the final news product have intrinsic worth, and that the industry should be seeking new ways to monetize that value.  We agree that the fourth estate will survive, though in radically different form, and that technology will lead the way forward.


The internet is killing newspapers and giving birth to a new sort of news business

THE race is crowded, but San Francisco stands a fair chance of becoming the first major American city without a daily newspaper. The San Francisco Chronicle, founded in 1865, is trimming its already pared-down staff in an attempt to avoid closure. And if it does disappear? “People under 30 won’t even notice,” says Gavin Newsom, the city’s mayor.

Most industries are suffering at present, but few are doing as badly as the news business. Things are worst in America, where many papers used to enjoy comfortable local monopolies, but in Britain around 70 local papers have shut down since the beginning of 2008. Among the survivors, advertising is dwindling, editorial is thinning and journalists are being laid off. The crisis is most advanced in the Anglo-Saxon countries, but it is happening all over the rich world: the impact of the internet, exacerbated by the advertising slump, is killing the daily newspaper.

Does that matter? Technological change has destroyed all sorts of once-popular products, from the handloom to the Walkman, and the world has mostly been better for it. But news is not just a product: the press is the fourth estate, a pillar of the polity. Journalists investigate and criticise governments, thus helping voters decide whether to keep them or sack them. Autocracies can function perfectly well without news, but democracies cannot. Will the death of the daily newspaper—the main source of information for most educated people for at least the past century, the scourge of corrupt politicians, the conscience of nations—damage democracy?

Picked apart

A newspaper is a package of content—politics, sport, share prices, weather and so forth—which exists to attract eyeballs to advertisements. Unfortunately for newspapers, the internet is better at delivering some of that than paper is. It is easier to search through job and property listings on the web, so classified advertising and its associated revenue is migrating onto the internet. Some content, too, works better on the internet—news and share prices can be more frequently updated, weather can be more geographically specific—so readers are migrating too. The package is thus being picked apart.

The newspaper’s decline is both cause and effect of the worrying finding by the Pew Centre that the number of Americans aged 18-24 who got any news at all the previous day has dropped from 34% to 25% over the past ten years. But that figure may be less troubling than it looks. Because newspapers pack together all sorts of different content, many of those who claimed in the past to have seen some news probably did so for a few seconds before turning the page to the sports scores. Acquaintance as shallow as that with the news is probably no great loss to society; Pew surveys of general knowledge suggest that young people are about as well (or badly) informed as they used to be.

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