Extra! Extra! It’s Old News

The news that another newspaper has ceased publication should not come as a surprise to anyone. After the real estate, banking and automotive industries, print publishing may be the next most threatened industry by our current economic tailspin.

Let’s face it. Newspapers aren’t what they used to be. A decade ago, they still reigned as the primary source of news for most people. Today, most newspapers are filled with old news by the time they arrive on your doorstep. People are simply reading newspapers less and consuming television, Internet and mobile devices more than ever.

The closing of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer print edition won’t be the last. Time recently reported that 8 of the nation’s 50 largest daily papers could cease publication in the next 18 months.

I still enjoy the ritual of reading the morning newspaper and drinking a cup of coffee. Now it just takes me longer to drink the coffee than it does to read the paper.

People by their very nature are resistant to change until something forces them to change. Smaller paychecks cause people to reevaulate the things they are doing and how they are using their time and money. If people can’t immediately see the payback of an advertising expenditure or a newspaper or magazine subscription, they are much more likely to cut these things from their lives now that they are budgeting.

When I launched my first website in 1995, part of my job was to be an Internet “evangelist”. My job was to teach people about something that they had yet to learn about. One of the points I always focused on was telling people that the Internet was all about cutting out middlemen.

At that time, what I thought about middlemen had to do mostly with the growth of e-commerce and the ability of product manufacturers to change their distribution chains and make more money. I never thought about how broad the term middlemen could be until just recently.

Hmm. People now have the ability to write things themselves on the Internet through blogs. Do they still care what the local newspaper editorial writer thinks? They now “tweet” eyewitness accounts of news, changing the role of the local news writer. People now rely heavily on community-based websites for links to stories, thus allowing groups of friends and complete strangers to play the role of editor. Suddenly, the definition of middleman has gotten a lot broaden than most of us ever dreamed.

Some fear the shutdown of newspapers and the proliferation of “social journalism” threatens journalism itself. There is more and more talk of creating non-profit newspapers through grants or donations much like the NPR model for radio. One of the largest benefactors, the Knight Foundation, is spending $25 million over the next five years to fund innovative journalism experiments that will hopefully define the future of this field.

Change can be uncomfortable. Rapid change even more so–even when you have had a decade to “prepare”. Most of us simply don’t have the foresight, discipline or stomach to prepare for inevitable change until that day arrives.

I have a lot of friends and colleagues who work in print journalism. They are hard working and knowledgeable people with a thirst for truth. I received an email from one such person recently. She described how job insecurity has become the norm for her. She has been laid off four times in the past 10 years and is feeling uneasy about her new employer. Despite ever-present job insecurity, she shared how God had always provided for her and that she has never had an unpaid bill.

We all desire to have more job security than what she has had but in the midst of her “insecurity” she has grown to trust God more. We can pray for those people who work at the local newspaper–writers, editors, support staff–and pray that they will be provided for in much the same way as their industry is redefined.

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  1. It’s like riding a roller coaster in a dark indoor ride where you can’t see where the next turn is going. The changes in journalism are fascinating and a little frightening simultaneouly. Whatever the end results are — if there are true end results or constant innovation and evolution — it’s remarkable to be part of a revolution in its infancy.

    March 17, 2009

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