I’m not predicting that newspapers will disappear — only that they should. Cancel your subscription already. It’s over.
Meanwhile, we need newspapers now more than ever. Let me explain.
What’s so bad about newspapers?
In hindsight, newspapers were invented only because the world didn’t have the Internet. If our ancestors had net access, newspapers would have been inconceivable.
Early publishers took advantage of the cheapness of paper and advances in printing to rush opinion and news to citizens. Early papers were published weekly or occasionally. But in 1702, the first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant, was published in Britain.
Over time, daily newspapers evolved into the fastest and cheapest way to deliver breaking news, opinion, propaganda, community events and other content to the public. We’ve had weekly, monthly and quarterly magazines, books and other sources of print publishing. But the newspaper’s special niche has long been fast and cheap content to the masses.
But the world has changed.
For starters, global warming happened. We raze mighty forests, burn energy to grind them into pulp, drive the wood, then the paper, then the newspapers around in trucks that pollute the air. The ink is toxic. Most newspapers, sad to say, go unread. They’re discarded, either adding to landfills or shipped off to the recycling center for more expensive and environmentally unfriendly processing.
As readership declines, and paper becomes more costly, newspapers stay afloat by making the problem worse. The “solutions” include the use of aggressive marketing to sell subscriptions to people who won’t read them, to sell more and bigger ads, and create entire sections solely for the purpose of loading them with ads.
The real newspaper is the section that begins with the front page. It’s got a lot of ads, but not enough to financially sustain the newspaper company. The “Style” section, the “Fashion” supplement and other peripheral sections have been artificially contrived as special advertising vehicles to bring in advertising dollars. These section don’t exist to satisfy demands of readers or fulfill the mission of the paper, but as an environmentally disastrous “band-aid” that tries to address the financial unsustainability of the daily print newspaper model. The result is that at least 70 percent of an average newspaper is junk mail.
The newspaper industry has become a machine that converts forests into spam and pollution.
And for what? Newspapers aren’t even close to being the fastest and cheapest way to deliver content anymore. Everything newspapers publish is available online. So in the larger scheme of content delivery, what is the purpose of a daily print newspaper?
What’s so good about newspapers?
The medium of paper for delivering non-configurable RSS feeds and spam is conspicuously obsolete.
But the culture of content development that newspapers have evolved is more relevant, important and necessary today than ever.
Newspapers attract smart people with good writing and editing skills — people who could be making a lot more money elsewhere — into a profession that has developed processes, best practices, habits, communications styles and a proud ethos of objectivity and fairness.
In a world in which anyone can publish anything — and the masses gravitate toward conspiracy theories, political extremism, rants and urban legends — we need the disciplined, multi-sourced, fact-checked, copy edited and proofed content newspapers provide. We need trained, experienced reporters with sources and access chasing down tips and leads and button-holing powerful people with hard questions, then wrapping it all together with hard facts, context and equal time for the other side.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the blogosphere. But political and other blogs would be diminished to the point of irrelevance without newspaper stories to comment on.
Newspapers are also vastly superior to the Internet in their ability to vet, prioritize, balance and follow-up on stories.
In fact, everything about newspaper content is great, except for the paper.
Next page: What’s an educated reader to do?
What’s an educated reader to do?
The daily print newspaper model no longer makes sense. Print newspapers are financially and culturally obsolete — and environmentally unacceptable. That’s not the case, however, with weekly and monthly magazines.
Good weekly magazines that cover news and current events — The Economist, The New Yorker, US News & World Report and hundreds of others titles — can give you a newspaper’s perspective, balance, quality and investigative journalism, but using a tiny fraction of the paper. Monthly magazines — The Atlantic Monthly, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Magazine and others – tend to be even higher quality and more efficient.
My advice to daily newspapers: Develop a long-term plan to transition from a daily print model to a weekly print model, supplemented by constantly updated online content.
My advice to readers: Cancel your newspaper subscriptions, and subscribe to a couple of weeklies, and perhaps a monthly or two. Replace newspaper “breaking news” with online newspapers, blogs, and other sites, as well as podcasting.
I know I’m going to get mail from people who say they love their newspapers. They like reading on paper, the giant pages, the look, feel, smell and ritual of reading a daily print newspaper. To you my advice is to “tweak” your newspaper reading. If you subscribe to a bloated, ad-crazy publication like the Los Angeles Times, cancel it and replace it with a lean machine like the Wall Street Journal (it’s a far better paper anyway). Cancel the weekend edition. Share a subscription with a co-worker.
Meanwhile, we should all support the newspapers’ online sites by visiting them regularly, subscribing if they have something to subscribe to, and patronizing their advertisers.
But whatever you do, don’t subscribe to the print edition as an act of support for your favorite or local newspaper. You’re not doing them any favors. You’re just an enabler, and keeping them hooked on yesterday’s unsustainable and obsolete content delivery model.
Newspapers were great. But the world has moved on. It’s time to kill the daily print newspaper.