Monday, January 16, 2006

The Future of Newspapers

Michael Kinsley recently wrote in Slate on the future of newspapers:
Printing plants no longer have the clickety-clack of linotype machines and bubbling vats of molten lead. The letterpress machines that stamped the ink on the paper have been supplanted by offset presses that transfer it gently. There is computer-controlled this and that. Nevertheless, the process remains highly physical, mechanical, complicated, and noisy. As we live through the second industrial revolution, your daily newspaper remains a tribute to the wonders of the first one.

No one knows how all this will play out. But it is hard to believe that there will be room in the economy for delivering news by the Rube Goldberg process described above. That doesn't mean newspapers are toast. After all, they've got the brand names. You gotta trust something called the "Post-Intelligencer" more than something called "Yahoo!" or "Google," don't you? No, seriously, don't you? OK, how old did you say you are?
While requiring registration and/or payment may seem anti-reader (I go out of my way to find sites that don't require either), it makes sense from the cost standpoint of a publisher. If readers aren't buying your print edition because they can access your web site for free, then logic dictates you should start making them pay there, too.

So what's left at the curbside box or newsstand? The downside to the spread of the internet is that print editions now contain mostly advertising. Even magazines like Sports Illustrated and Newsweek print far fewer content pages now, and often direct readers to their web sites to read full interviews. Or in the case of, to look at hundreds more swimsuit pictures.

As major newspaper chains lay off workers (see Knight-Ridder and Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., for example), quality declines and investigative reporting suffers. The result is declining circulation and more layoffs.

But for now, I can still enjoy a few newspaper web sites that provide free quality content, and don't ask for an arm or a leg. Especially the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Hey, I need to get my daily fix of "Funky Winkerbean," "The Boondocks" and "The Phantom" somewhere! - P


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