Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why I Hope Newspapers Never Die

I did something shameful yesterday.

I participated in a Death Pool, not for a celebrity, but for an icon nonetheless.

I made a bet on when the official death knell for The Kansas City Star will be.

My boss says by the end of the year.

My co-worker says by June of next year.

I say they'll go down to a 4 day a week format by the end of next year.

Unlike many celebrating the death of the "archaic media", I really hope it's never. Last week alone, 3 of my friends lost jobs in the media industry. You're sick if you find schadenfreude in other people being laid off. Shame on you. Those are jobs and people with families that the blogosphere and it's pay per click/impression ads will never support. (And those of you who force me to click thru my Google Reader to finish reading your content piss me off too!)

That being said, people are being laid off across almost every industry. Why is the loss of a daily newspaper such a big deal?

There are several reasons, most of them are personal for me as someone who pondered the idea of becoming a journalist many years ago. That's why I have a blog today. By no means is it a news source, but like most blogs it chronicles my own personal life (or what I care to share) and comments on the world around me. Does my blog have a place in the universe? I'm narcissistic enough to think so. Is it news? Not by a long shot. But it is my little opinionated nook of the world and you've bothered to be here, so here's my small minority opinion of why I hope to be reading a printed newspaper when I'm old and using a magnifying glass to read the words...1. I'll admit to a fascination with the arcane as someone who spent four years and a whole lotta money on a degree in history. And what better chronicler of American life is there than the daily headlines? These are literally snapshots into a moment in time...

I've spent hours and hours reeling through microfiche looking for historical data in newspapers and often I'd get caught up in the side stories and the ads from days gone by. In the future, how are researchers going to look for content? Web hosts post and unpost content at will. Bloggers start and stop their blogs every day. If you went to look up an Internet source from 10 years ago, I bet you'd only have a 15% chance of finding it.

2. I admit I have a vested interest in seeing a medium do well as someone who earns a living in Marketing. Ever since I graduated college 9 years ago, everyone said, "Oh, don't advertise in the paper, it's a dying media. No one reads the paper these days!"

I beg to differ. The Kansas City Star is one of my best sources for direct response, believe it or not. It's all in how an advertiser uses it. Those who still read the paper are typically intelligent, well-educated, active readers who are mature enough in their careers to have the disposable income required to purchase the particular products and services I advertise. I almost always receive a return on my investment with ads there. As part of a healthy media mix, the newspaper is still viable for me.

It's easy to ignore the right rail and banner ads of a web page filled with pop up ads. Advertising was never more annoying than when it hit the Internet. Those who abuse the power of online advertising give the rest of the decent web pages a bad name. Ads in a newspaper never play music or give you a filthy virus.

3. I think it's sad as the end is seeming to come to an end for several major metropolitan papers, most recently, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (first published in 1863) and The Rocky Mountain News (since 1859). In a day and age that not even our baseball teams are all owned by American companies, it's nice to know at least the vehicle of our opinions and news are still American owned. These are companies that have been publishing on a daily basis for over a hundred years. While they may not go under all the way, a switch to completely online is a sad change.

4. Curling up with a laptop on a Sunday morning is just not the same as the happy, messy spread of me, hubby, daughter, cats and breakfast on the couch, reading the paper...I did this with my own family when I was younger and I know my family now enjoys it as well.

5. You don't need WiFi, a power cord or a battery to read a newspaper. You just need a source of light. Newspapers are the quintessential portable media source.

6. Just like talk radio is an important part of a citizen's forum in a community, the newspaper is as well. Yes, you can start a blog, yes a few people might read it, comment on your opinions, but nothing has a farther reaching impact than a major newspaper. Radio, tv and blogs may have wider theoretical reach, but newspapers, I think, have a better actual reach (remember the whole active reader thing?). A newspaper is a pillar in a metropolitan community.

7. Then there's the whole credibility issue. Anyone can publish on the Internet. That's a beautiful thing. I read several blogs a day, all completely different from one another in terms of content, professionalism and purpose. To publish something in print (and online too) and to be considered credible, you have to have verified sources, objectivity (or at least the semblance of it), and more often than not at least a college degree or years of experience. Snobbish? Yep. But if you're good enough to be hired and paid for your attempt at objective reporting or educated opinion, there's a slightly better chance of me taking you seriously.

8. When journalists blog, it usually sucks. Sorry, but it's true. Too many of them use it as a hobby or a sloppy, half assed attempt at social networking. They'll usually save their good stuff for their printed column. This is disappointing. Even some of the good journalists do this (not to say there isn't some really crappy, horrible writers out there who still somehow seem to get published). Until journalists get past posting the police blotter or sporadically posting their second-string columns, the newspaper will continue it's downward spiral. They also need to remember to cite their sources. Just because you're blogging doesn't mean you should forget your manners and give credit where it is due.

9. The world is polarized and segmented enough. As a blogger, I can choose and filter whatever content I damn well please into my Google Reader. Occasionally, I leave my comfortable nest of agreeing and dissenting opinions I've built for myself. But I have to work for it. As Simon and Garfunkel said, you "only hear what you want to hear and disregard the rest" With a newspaper, you have different opinions right at your fingertips. I'm more likely to pick up the sports section (when it's not baseball season) when a headline catches my eye than to click thru to the sports page on the internet.

10. I'm starting to stretch things at this point, so, to make this a nice round top 10 list, I'm going with the paper airplane/boat/George Washington hat/I need cheap packing material argument. Copy paper just isn't as effective in these applications.

I'm sure there are lots of people who disagree with pretty much every single thing I said, but, again, it's my blog, I'll spout whatever I want to spout. I just hate seeing an era end...

That's it, I'm done playing devil's advocate for the day...


Hyperblogal said...

The STAR, from all I've heard, has been a profit center for it's parent. The problem is that McClatchy is a financial anchor that is bringing down all its papers ... good and bad.

Kansas Sity Sinic said...

Holy Cow, I need the Sparks Notes version of this post lady!

but, i like it.

kcmeesha said...

I don't have a special attachment to the print edition. Years ago I read my Russian papers cover to cover, but in the past year or so I read online 90% through the links on TKC. I can see why the paper is needed but realistically the times are moving towards saving the trees.I don't think it's all economy,we are just moving on.

Anonymous said...

You are right about the profits statement. And their press pavilion has the opportunity to increase those profits; they just added another paper to their portfolio this week.

If a local, deep pockets owner (my fantasy has Warren Buffett riding in on his BRK.A stock) purchased the Star, there’s no reason why it could not be viable again. And were the new owner to run it as a break-even proposition, all the better. (This after replacing several of the top management, starting with the publisher.)

That said, can I get in the Death Pool? I don't believe the Star will die, per se, but rather will morph into an on-line entity only by the end of this physical year. This coming after the next (and hopefully final) round of firings/scale-backs at that Sad Lady…

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