In the post below David D. Perlmutter, a professor in the KU School of Journalism & Mass Communications, and author of Blogwars, reflects on the changing nature of newspapers. Read other blog posts by Perlmutter here.
For years, journalists have speculated when newspapers would give up the print ghost and convert to a purely online and digital presence. The news business is abuzz with the first real example of such a transference. The New York Times reports that the 90-year-old newspaper of Madison, Wisconsin, The Capital Times, “stopped printing to devote itself to publishing its daily report on the Web.” The editor of the paper was quoted as explaining, “We are going a little farther, a little faster, but the general trend is happening everywhere.”
The question is when a trend will become a flood–or a collapse. Newspapers are caught in quandary. The “print” business is their cash cow. Online revenues, while growing, fail to match what papers can change advertisers for print space and subscribers for copies. Online paper subscriptions rarely work or work well. There is a longstanding resistance by consumers to paying for a digital newspaper. And people are turning to many other sources of news besides papers, online or otherwise. Even old revenue standbys like classified ads are being taken over by outsiders like Craig’s List.
But the sheer costs of the print model are straining the news budget: The headlines in trade papers of the news business are about a time of confusion, retrenchment, uncertainty. You hear the same from journalists themselves: There doesn’t seem to be many happy and contented newspaper reporters.
Obviously, blogs and other social and interactive media are crucial venues for the traditional news business to explore and exploit. Going digital means more than changing platforms. Already one sees many papers trying different models, from adapting YouTube to their Web pages to creating interactive blogs for their staff.
However, it is unlikely that print will die out in all forms. Human beings still need it.