Do newspapers have a future?

Jack Shafer has an intriguing piece at today about the possible demise of newspapers, for the all-too-true reason that they are slicing back on the very things that make them valuable and doing next to nothing to add anything new and interesting to their pages.
Shafer argues that publishers are whacking reporters, axing and shrinking comics and cutting back in the face of fierce, growing competition from the Internet. They’re basically providing ever less reason for someone to toss down a couple of quarters and take home a paper every day.
Moreover, Schafer points out, journalists “can’t compete by adding a few blogs here, blogging up coverage over there, and setting up ‘comment’ sections” to match the bonanza that exists online. “If newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters don’t produce spectacular news coverage no blogger can match, they have no right to survive,” he said.
While he doesn’t argue that blogging can match reporting, he said that journalists remind him of “Maytag’s factory rats whose jobs were poached by low-paid Chinese labor” after arguing that quality would win out. In fact, it often doesn’t.
It isn’t hard, after all, to argue that getting stuff for free is better than paying for it, even if the free stuff isn’t as good.
I think Shafer raises a legitimate concern for the entire newspaper industry. How can you get people to pay $200 a year for a newspaper if they can easily get much of what’s in it for free on their computer? The answer is, clearly, that in the long run you can’t.
So the trick is finding a way to make the newspaper more valuable without making it more expensive. Is that even possible? Well, maybe.
Personally, I’d love to see my industry shake the lead out and give it a try. We’re either going to fight for our survival — with all kinds of new attempts to lure in readers — or we’re going to sink into the dust with all the back copies rotting in the basement.
At The Tattoo, we’re firmly convinced that journalism remains relevant and important, for young readers as much as older ones. It doesn’t need to be dumbed down or refocused on celebrity crap. It needs instead to be nourished and showcased. Newspapers need to speak to a new generation instead of doing the same old thing in the same old ways.
THe newspaper business is on autopilot and the plane is heading down. Can’t we grab the damn controls and fly this baby?
I wish that some newspaper somewhere would break the mold, take some risks and take aim at becoming as critical to young readers as it was for our elders in days gone by. It’ll alienate a few but it offers the only opportunity to preserve a profession that’s crucial to democracy.
If news becomes nothing more than the babble of a billion bloggers, we’ll live in a society ignorant of damn near everything it needs to know.

Here’s the link for Shafer’s column:
Not just another column about blogging

Our official policy: We hate blogs.
Copyright 2006 by The Tattoo. All rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • If publishers were smart — and they are not — they’d hire you to run a big paper. You might run it into the ground but you might just show the industry how to survive.