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What’s killing newspapers?

News.

News is what is killing papers.

Not “news” as in something you want and need to read, but “news” as in something reporters once liked and wanted to write about.

Nearly every story in every paper these days sounds the same. Why? Because it is the same.

Newspapers now publish little original content and instead print pre-packaged filler, which is pushed out the door of “News Agencies” like so much fast food.

These syndicated “products” come off an assembly-line, each uses the same limited set of ingredients, and is put together in the approved manner as dictated by management, which resides in some far away place.

The output from these factories is so predictable that satirical publications like The Onion hardly have to break a sweat to mimic the news-speak in which they are written.

How did this come about? Used to be, local papers offered stories that had something to do with where you lived.

But stories about the new road construction—who got the contract, how many neighbors were to be employed, what roads were involved—interesting as they were to the indigenous populants, meant nothing to the folks in the next city.

Local news beats weren’t sexy or glamorous but they were the selling point of the papers.

Which was fine in the days when reporting was a trade. Before it was a profession.

Because then came “J” school graduates—they had degrees, you see. As professionals, they could not find themselves interested in writing articles about what the city council was up to when “real” stories awaited them.

So every paper started covering “matter of importance”, such as Washington and international events. Finance pages expanded to say, “The Dow did this, it did that.” Celebrities were irresistible, so they were stuck in, too.

Then Radio, TV, and the internet started having their way. Anything that was in a paper was available elsewhere, and faster. And free.

When the newspapers took the hit, they started cutting back. The reporters were the first to go.

And management filled the spaces with pre-packaged articles, which covered the same content as the fired reporters did: Washington, Middle-East conflicts, etc. What was the harm?

Management also tried to make the papers “look like” TV—wide margins, large fonts, simplified writing—in an effort to fool people into thinking they weren’t reading.

Soon, every paper looked the same.

And then people stopped buying them.

It’s got so bad that even papers like those in San Francisco and Seattle are going to kick over.

The fix is obvious. Papers need to return to reporting and analyzing local events, to providing information you cannot get any other place. Switch to a weekly or other format if there isn’t enough daily material.

I doubt it will happen.

I should say that I stole the idea for this post from Cranky Geek, and perpetual curmudgeon, John Dvorak, who agrees that the newspaper industry needs to “return to its roots, and focus on providing densely edited and directed information of importance as decided by a trustworthy source. And it should leave the fluff to the Internet.”

14 thoughts on “What’s killing newspapers? Leave a comment

  1. Steal all you want from Dvorak. The guy is an imbecile of the greatest order. At least when it comes to things Apple related, he just can’t get it right, except perhaps only once.

    On the main point I agree with you entirely. And the irony is that the internet is substituting the local as well as the global news. Blogs and “portals” of blogs are creating ubiquitous communities where the variety of topics and interests is insane. “News” important to the communities reach these points of horizontal distribution months, if not years before they even reach the local newspapers.

    For instance, I learned about the oil shock and the financial crisis in the middle of 2006. Most of my friends, who got their news from newspapers, were completely unaware of what the hell I was talking about in 2007.

    If this doesn’t debunk “newspapers”, don’t know what does.

  2. I haven’t subscribed to a newspaper in 6 years. I still recall the day I wrote them requesting they stop throwing trash in my yard.

    Nor do I watch TV news or listen to radio news. Vast wastelands.

    The Internet is where it is all happening today. The Internet killed the newspaper biz. Blame Al Gore.

  3. When editors started writing pieces telling me that they would not use the word “terrorist” because it carried with it judgmental overtones, I lost my last scrap of interest in hearing the opinions of half-wits who had enough tradition behind them to call it news.

    And, besides, they said, “Some people can’t tell the difference between a terrorist and George Washington.” There is no part of that quote isn’t base, childish stupidity. Now, if only “experts” or “critics” said that. Or better yet, maybe, “science.”

    Since then I’ve seen “militants” do the following:
    – Make hostages of children in a school in Russia and then murder the children (in fairness, in this case, I recall the “militants” became “terrorists” when they started throwing bodies out the door);
    – Strap bombs to teenage girls with Down syndrome and send them into a market;
    – Crucify the children of people who help political opponents;
    – Train children to be suicide bombers.

    Among others things.

    There is no more dispensable group on this side of criminals than those who make a living writing but are afraid to wield words to paint the people who commit atrocities in a bad light. Good riddance.

  4. WSJ has been surviving better than most…although it may feel pressure eventually. I like how the DON’T have everything up for free on the website. They proved subscription on the web was the right model (when all the dotcommers were saying it wasn’t…despite the key lessons from porn…which shows it IS.)

    What if AP were to actually start their own paper? Or Reuters?

    I have long felt that reporters and a lot of stories (this is going back at least 40 years or so) wrote a lot of stories that were 90 percent filler. Take a quote and blather. In opposition, the WSJ actually had stories more like magazine articles…where it was evident the reporter had done a lot of research and even cruinched numbers.

    P.s. Can you get Joy to fix her love of your repudiated wishcasting article?

  5. And what do you think of Patterico? Dish…bitch! Could be a good post on its own. In general. And then with the LA Times schtick.

  6. In a prior incarnation I edited a small weekly [but prize winning] newspaper covering small towns in the mid-Sierra near Yosemite NP. The heart and soul of that paper were the weekly reports sent in from volunteer correspondents in each community. My job as editor was to keep their reports focused, contemporary, comprehensive and relevant. And to fix their spelling.

    Whenever a writer took a week off without a substitute Ye Olde Editor sure heard about it from the readers! That paper was the essence of reportage. Facts, facts, facts and personalities. Never opinions. Something the corporate culture of the LAT, SFC and NYT have long forgotten.

    I blame most of it on their modern Journalism professors, the rest on their “marketing consultants”. Marketing them right down the good ‘ol Thomas Crapper.

    Soon some type of “phoenix” will arise from all this. And it will seem so simple we will all slip our foreheads and then open this link and push the red button.

  7. 49erDweet,

    You deal much with the green ink brigade at that position? It almost sounds like the perfect place to meet them.

  8. Ari [smiling] Yes, I did. But I had to google the term to know what you meant. One retired naval officer couldn’t understand why each week I lower-cased all his VERY IMPORTANT emphases. He was a riot. But well meaning. He was always pushing for more public “necessary’s” in our community. Finally the county put one in just for the tourists. I suggested in an editorial they be sorta named after him by putting the initials for “Captain Albert’s Necessar’s” over the doors. He never caught on.

  9. JH: Papa, are your reading the obituaries in the newspaper?

    Papa Gallo: Yes. The newspaper has been killing off my friends and families.

    JH: We shall kill the newspaper first then.

    Yes, unbeknown to the world, haha, the Almighty JH has been killing the newspaper since, one by one, with the help of the Almightier Internet.

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