Is The Web The Solution for America’s Troubled Newspaper Industry?

By  |  Monday, March 16, 2009 at 8:18 pm

With the sudden news that the country is about to lose another high-circulation paper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, it is becoming increasingly clear that in an attempt to stay relevant, these companies are betting on the web for their salvation.

The P-I will move to a online only source a la the Huffington Post, but it will come at a high cost: the 165-person newsroom would likely shrink to less than 20. In addition, its likely that much of the reporting would be outsourced.

What’s worse, the closure of the P-I, and the earlier shuttering of the Rocky Mountain News, could threaten other papers. Both operated what are called “joint operating agreements,” where competing papers sign agreements to pool operating costs. The Seattle Times and The Denver Post were the other halves of each respective agreement.

Neither were doing well beforehand, and now are faced to pony up for their expenses on their own.

Besides the P-I, other papers are going online. The Christian Science Monitor, which has published in print for 100 years, will go online only in the spring. But some are still trying to stick it out.

The list of papers in trouble includes several high profile names. The Philadelphia Inquirer, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Tribune Company (incudes The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times), and The Miami Herald, just to name a few.

Most of these are up for sale, but in this economy chances are practically nil that anyone would want to take on a dying industry. So the question remains, is the Web the newspaper industry’s salvation?

Likely not. It still appears that industry executives don’t quite get why newspaper’s initial forays onto the web were not successful. People expect information on the web to be free, and few will pay for it.

This is evidenced by comments recently by newspaper executives at a Pennsylvania University last month.

Houston Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen had this to say about online news:

“When the history is written, 50 years from now, 100 years from now … one of the biggest mistakes the mainstream media made was giving information away for free.”

That kind of thinking is antiquated, and might be proof in the pudding that newspaper execs could be wholly unprepared for the way online news is done if they expect to transfer their businesses online.

It really may be that the super dailies of the 20th Century may become relics of the past, replaced by much more localized papers. You don’t often hear of the local dailies running into trouble as much.

These papers have learned to operate within their means, so they’re likely more prepared to work on a tighter budget.

Either way, the newspaper industry likely has a decade — likely far less than that — to figure out how to survive in the increasingly digital 21st Century. I’m willing to bet we’ll see many more notable papers fall by the wayside before these companies figure it out.

 
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  1. ralf Says:

    I would like some articles, any articles, focusing on how the newspaper industry has collectively forgotten how to 1) write 2) spell and, most importantly, 3) report. Heaven forbid they investigate, entertain, and enlighten. I am a member of the generation the industry claims “won’t read a paper” and “get all its information from the Internet”, yet I love reading a paper every day, as long as it is well written and has something worth reading. Hey, papers, stop whining and start writing. I go to blogs and Web sites because they have intelligent, topical essays, not because they are on my computer / phone…