Are Newspapers Dinosaurs? Only If They Refuse to Change


Let’s get over the perception that newspapers are dying. They aren’t.

They’re changing and they will continue to change and evolve. The Internet allows everyone to be a journalist. It’s sort of like how the digital camera allows everyone to be a photographer.

What we are witnessing today in journalism and especially newspapers is truly transformational. For the first time, every citizen is capable of being a journalist and a “newspaper man.”

Remember the movie The Matrix? Remember how Agent Smith (the bad guy) was able to change into the skin of anyone he chose? Well, today everyone can be an Agent Smith. Actually, everyone can be a Dan Rather, Diane Sawyer or Tom Brokaw if they choose to be.

We WILL broadcast, blog, share, gossip, inform, and investigate every aspect of our lives. We WILL photograph, videotape, and write about our experiences.

I can imagine a 21st-century newspaper editor texting a father attending his son’s basketball game to report on the game and the score, transmit some photographs or a short video clip, and even interview the players and coaches.

Dad will do it all for free. He will do it out a sense of obligation, duty and personal satisfaction. But he won’t just do it for those reasons. He will do it to feel instantly connected to the community where he lives.

Will this be a one-sided report on the game? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Imagine there are two dads at the game, and each has a son playing on opposite sides of the court and they both report.

Take it one step further. Imagine that there are dozens of citizen reporters at this game. And now imagine that the editor has an infinite news hole to fill with content.

OK, stay with me here.

The newspaper editor’s job description will also be transformed. The best ones will cultivate a “staff” of citizen journalists. They will be depended on to guard against misinformation and to “train” their reporters.

Of course, good journalism WILL remain objective. And editors will not just edit and cut and paste stories into a Quark document. They will captain both the coverage and the conversation!

Newspapers aren’t dying. The only thing that is disappearing (going the way of the dinosaur really) is the 20th-century idea of a newspaper. And from my point of view, newspaper companies, advertisers and the professional journalists who work for them in the 21st century will either evolve or die.

Personally, I’ve already stopped subscribing to newspapers. I used to subscribe to three.

There is something else, something better than a 20th-century newspaper. It’s called the Internet, and it happens to be more interesting and relevant to me as a journalist and as a member of many different communities.

[tags]newspapers, photojournalism[/tags]


9 Responses to “Are Newspapers Dinosaurs? Only If They Refuse to Change”

  1. With all due respect... this is absurd. 'Citizen journalists' only replace basic fact gatherers, but analytical reporting and investigation are far more complex endeavors that are clearly coming to their ends.

    Those kinds of journalism actually require money - as in salaries. Unfortunately I think it will take significant corruption and suffering on the part of the public to rebuild the business infrastructure needed to support real reporting. And it will happen long after all the skilled journalists have found other careers.

    The dinosaurs didn't die because they didn't evolve. A meteor hit the planet... and they just died.

  2. It may sound far fetched. But it's not, actually.

    Where do you get your information and what do you read these days?

    I can tell you categorically, that everything I need to know about any interest and any 'community' that I'm interested in is online. And nearly everything is reported to me by other people passionate about the same interests as I have.

    Seriously, papers will take this route too. And so will professional journalists. They will (and many already have) construct their own frames and distribute (for pay) their stories. Call it a new kind of syndication. But it's syndication nonetheless.

    Are we really losing out? Not in the least.

    In fact, the sources and breadth of information and reporting that is distributed online via thousands and millions of blogs is more extensive, more robust and more complete than any team of investigative reporters in any paper in the country.

    And the dinosaur thing? That was meant to be a metaphor. I picked the wrong one. How about go the way of Neanderthal?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal#The_fate_of_the_Neanderthals

  3. A follow up. From today's blog post by Marc Andreesson:

    'I hereby inaugurate my New York Times Deathwatch, which will continue until the last Sulzberger has left the building.'

    Here's the url with great data on... you guessed it the death knell of the 20th century newspaper.

    http://blog.pmarca.com/2008/02/inaugurating-th.html

  4. The web is a great distribution model but there's very little actual reporting being done. Content on the web comes almost entirely from newspapers and TV stations, and those are dying. Every once in awhile a blogger comes up with a good tidbit of information - say, on a politician - but the legwork that actual *develops* the full story is done by old media. Blogs and websites have not stepped in to take the role of traditional journalists at all.

    I think it's important to separate information (which is often easily had) from actual reporting and investigation, which *uses* information to shed light on an issue. They're very different. Journalism has not found a way to make money from its craft and its content IS going away, not to be replaced anytime soon.

    Remember, few stories that are truly important are readily accessible to the public because there's so much interest in keeping them secret. Such as a corrupt government agency or violation of the rights of the underprivileged.

    Do you think recreational blogs and social networks are going to uncover these stories? If so that's incredibly optimistic.

    Neaderthals I accept. =) But not for the business, for the country. I think we'll adapt after corruption gets bad enough that we appreciate journalism again. And I'm not a doom and gloom guy normally! I just think most people have taken for granted how much of what they consume comes from a dying creature.

  5. Admittedly, there aren't as many dads reporting as there are professional journalists who blog.

    A few different points of view from Iraq.

    http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/iraq/

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/jan/07/iraqandthemedia.digitalmedia?gusrc=rss&feed=media

    A political report:

    http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/2003/06/59086

    From the online journalism review:

    http://www.ojr.org/ojr/stories/060615niles/

    And the infamous Greg Palast:

    http://www.gregpalast.com/

    My sister is a features editor at a prominent wire service. I think she's going to take the plunge as a professional journalist who publishes via a blog.

    I think the craft part is important. And journalists will continue to hone their craft in a new medium with infinite possibilities. (Read no news hole)

    Do I think newspapers will disappear. Obviously not. And many will find a way to be very profitable! The paper could be (and increasingly is) seen as the lead.

    Thanks very much for reading and contributing your thoughts!

  6. And yet, across the country and across the world, small, local newspapers are thriving and prospering. Suburban biweeklies and weeklies are everywhere, because people still need to know what is going on IN THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD. TV only covers the car crashes and the big bangs, and major urban papers have failed to provide usable LOCAL coverage.
    That is the issue, not a wholesale abandonment of ALL papers.

  7. Hi Stanley,

    Thanks for your comments. I know that if we lived close to each other we would meet regularly for coffee and have a great time discussing some of these issues. And I'm really glad we're able to talk here and not in a combative way. So thank you!

    I do agree with you that the web is an incredible platform. It's dynamic and there are a myriad of ways to create income by using it.

    I like to think of the web as one more prong in the fork of content distribution. Multi-media projects like the ones you mentioned are certainly viable.

    But, the real value in something like that happens in conjunction with a printed product, a physical product.

    I believe that publishing online in conjunction with publishing in the real world provides the most impant. And they should be done to complement each other.

    So, if you have a limited news hole, you might run a brief feature piece with a tag inviting people to visit a web site to see more.

    I do that all of the time in my print advertisements for wedding photography. It's typically the path that new customers find me. (I like to think of the web as a terrible way to start your search, but a great way to find the answers.)

    And newspapers, magazines and commercial businesses are doing this too.

    The trick is how to entice a viewer to see more. That's what I mean by real money. If you can move content on both platforms you're much more successful in attracting an interested audience and advertisers interest in both platforms.

    But further, the fact that not everyone uses the web and (I might try and argue;) more people still see a newspaper, magazine, poster or billboard means that the hook of any campaign, mulit-media project or news story still remains in the real world. That may be changing, but I still think it's the right approach.

    Ok, so back to this business about newspapers dying. I've written about this before.

    http://rising.blackstar.com/are-newspapers-dinosaurs-only-if-they-refuse-to-change.html

    And I still think it's true. They aren't dying. They are changing and they will continue to change as content distribution and advertising revenue changes. There will still be newspapers and they will be distributed, but perhaps not at the same size or breadth that they are today. The content and content creators will change as well and the newspaper (I think) will become a platform that works in conjunction with content online.

    Thanks again for making this a great topic for discussion! It's wandered a bit, but I think in the right direction.

  8. Sorry, this sentence should read:

    I believe that publishing online in conjunction with publishing in the real world should be done to complement each other.

  9. Sean is right, there will be many, many on-line things called "newspapers" filled with every dad's version of how his kid saved the game and every bad snapshot of just about every topic and every bloggers' opinions. The Web versions may even look like legit newspaper sites. But without paid, professional staff they won't be journalism sites -- just the public's scrapbook. Self-syndication may work for a few, but it's not a living for most writers. Print newspapers make 9 or 10X more revenue than the best Web-only "newspaper." The news online comes from what's left of today's print industry. Once print is gone, the people who pay nothing for journalism on the Web will soon get exactly what they pay for. The laid-off journalists will be working in paid, non-journalism jobs. Real news doesn't want to be free. If collected and written by professionals, it wants to be very expensive. Without a new business model, journalism is dead. Ken's right. Sean lives in a dream world. I would no more trust a "citizen" journalist to get it right than I would hire a "citizen lawyer" or get operated on by a "citizen surgeon." There's a reason some people are journalists and some aren't: training.

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