After J-school, I’m more convinced than ever that newspapers (ink on dead tree) are pretty much doomed, with the exception of some niches — free papers, alternative papers, hyperlocal neighborhood papers.
Even among my journalist friends, I can’t think of anyone that has an actual subscription to a dead-tree daily newspaper.
Everyone knows by now that the newspaper industry is broken, possibly beyond repair, but, particularly over the last three or four years, I’ve come across countless folks that want to sell you a solution to “fix” it. But it can’t be fixed. The environment has changed, and the niche that newspapers have thrived in for decades has dried up. The “newspaper organism” is going to become as extinct as the dodo. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing; it’s just what’s happening.
Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.
When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.
We don’t know who the Aldus Manutius of the current age is. It could be Craig Newmark, or Caterina Fake. It could be Martin Nisenholtz, or Emily Bell. It could be some 19 year old kid few of us have heard of, working on something we won’t recognize as vital until a decade hence. Any experiment, though, designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.