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.”