News Isn’t Dying, Newspapers Are

by Christopher Paul on April 20, 2012

This post by Bryan Larrick is confusing. He starts off by commenting on the top 10 dying industries and doesn’t really bat an eyelid when he talks about the DVD and video game industries. Rightly so, he says there is no longer a need for physical media.

“Among the lowlights on the list are #4, DVD, game, and video rental; and #6, recordable media manufacturing. This is one of those industries that has little real value left to it. Because information is now mostly weightless, there just is no space for an industry that relies on physical media as the lynchpin of their success. When these industries disappear, it won’t be necessary to shed a tear for them because the real product they dealt in, information, will still exist. The delivery method will have changed, that is all.”

But when he moves on to newspapers, suddenly his opinions on physical media changes and he contradicts himself.

“It’s #2 on the list, newspaper publishing, that is a real downer. As I’ve written on this site before, newspapers are more important than their profitability. They don’t just move information from point A to point B. Newspapers are content generators, that put a lot of time and resources into getting the stories they publish right. Without newspapers, the idea of accountable government or business would be laughable. At their best, newspapers shine a light into the darkness. But with the coming of the internet, their profit model has been severely damaged, reducing the amount of resources they can commit to reporting. Former venerable institutions like the Philadelphia Inquirer and Los Angeles Times are being eclipsed by pseudo-journalistic sites like HuffingtonPost.com, which does little original reporting. The downfall of newspaper publishing is not something to shrug one’s shoulders at, like with Blockbuster falling apart. It is a genuine tragedy.”

What’s laughable is his emotional attachment to printed paper while dismissing printed discs for video. Moreover, it’s wrong to dismiss online publications as as “pseudo-journalistic” when there are so many examples of bloggers and online only journalists breaking real stories. GigaOm, TechCrunch, and Mashable are some of the bigger names. There are non-tech sites like The Drudge Report, too. And even after TechCrunch was bought by AOL and amalgamated into the Huffington Post, they broke real news. Their bloggers are journalists in every sense of the word. The world doesn’t go dark because dead trees no longer deliver the news. Governments and businesses won’t get away with corruption because news isn’t printed. If anything, governments and businesses will fall from grace more easily because digital distribution makes it possible; Libya and Iran are perfect examples of that.

It’s almost as if Bryan confuses the newspaper industry with the news industry. News will never go away and there will always be someone writing about some event – big or small. The music didn’t go away with digital; we have more music than ever. Facts and events still happen; digital will only make it more accessible, spread it faster, and offer more opportunity for scrutiny and interpretation. Just because HP gets a bad reputation doesn’t mean the LA Times can’t make its own name for itself online.

It’s not HuffPo’s fault that physical media news companies are dying. It’s their own. They failed to embrace the digital distribution system and let disruptors lead the way and take the incumbent’s readers elsewhere. They didn’t create a digital hub of news; they locked up their content when, as they say, the cat was already out of the bag. They silenced themselves.

I believe the New York Times is one of the most famous news organizations in America. In NYC, I’d say it’s the gold standard for reporting on events at every level – from neighborhoods to the far reaches of outer space, they cover it. But I don’t get their news from a piece of paper. I read about it online. But when my 10 article limit is up, I go elsewhere for the same reporting. It’s frustrating to want to support them through ad impressions only to be denied entry to facts that are available elsewhere.

But I want to get back to Larrick for a minute. He defeats his own argument in the paragraph I quoted above when he says, “When these industries disappear, it won’t be necessary to shed a tear for them because the real product they dealt in, information, will still exist. The delivery method will have changed, that is all.”

That is absolutely true. So I’m going to change his words slightly and say: When newspapers disappear, it won’t be necessary to shed a tear for them because the real product they dealt in, news, will still exist. The delivery methods will have changed, that is all.

h/t to Jim Dalrymple from The Loop for pointing me to Daily Exhaust. I’m adding them to Reeder right after queue up this post.

Previous post:

Next post: