Lots of fascinating commentary the last few days on the demise of print media:
Tim O’Reilly: SF Chronicle in Trouble
Jessica Guynn: InfoWorld To Fold Magazine
David Lazarus: Here, let me throw myself under this bus
David Lazarus: Gets up from under bus, throws himself in front of train
Print media is what it is. I can’t imagine anyone will be printing news on paper twenty years from now in the industrialized world, so the only question is when it will go away, not if. At some point, these circulation numbers will begin to vaporize. And when it’s over for the New York Times, I can’t imagine many others will be around, either.
But forgetting the print part of print media for a second, there’s the question of whether they can survive in some other form. The more proactive publications are trying new things, and will keep the stuff that works.
Hopefully, the publications that try really dumb things like charging for content will stop before it puts them out of business (Doc explains why – no one will pay, and oh yeah, the search engines ignore your content).
Newspapers need to get over the mentality that they and they alone are qualified to gather, analyze and write news (see Lazarus’ second post above for their side of the argument). Bloggers as a group are just kicking their ass all over the place, even when it comes to doing real, live journalism stuff. Like talking to sources and digging for a story. Most print journalists are 9-5 types, and many are union can’t easily be fired. That makes them lazy (I would be).
What you get if you blog for a while is a sense of how valuable your readers are, and not because they view and click on ads.
Here’s an example – If a newspaper is writing about a startup and the writer is fairly sure there aren’t any direct competitors, they’ll still write “Snoozy, one of the leading startups in putting people to sleep” rather than “this is the first company to do this, and the only one so far.” They do this because they must never write an incorrect sentence. So instead of figuring out the truth, they will usually just write a noncommittal sentence. I never really saw this until I started blogging. Now, half the sentences in the average newspaper article jump out at me like they are highlighted – watered down, ass covering statements of nothing.
Now, I’ll write the latter if I can’t find any competitors after talking to a couple of sources and doing basic research. And even though startups are my area of knowledge, there’s a very good chance that statement will be incorrect.
But I write it anyway. Then I watch the comments like a hawk. And in an hour I have 95%+ certainty if I’m right or not.
My readers do the final fact check for me. And if I’m wrong, I correct immediately.
Now I didn’t go to journalism school, and I’m certain that my method for fact checking will horrify those who did. No one taught me this, I just figured it out on my own.
When I write, I write to learn more than I write to teach. I am not preaching to the masses, I am inviting them to have a conversation with me, where I get to set the topic and have the first word. We go from there.
Doc has more words of wisdom in his post that I linked to above. Things like linking to other publications and bloggers, linking back to your own old content, etc.
But I still believe that it will be difficult for newspapers to stay around. Their best and brightest will keep leaving to do their own thing. In the past this was impossible, because there was no way for them to make a living. But today, a visit to WordPress.com and a phone call to FM publishing gets you your publishing platform and your ad sales group. All you have to do then is write good content, and the audience will come.
Hopefully Lazarus will realize this before he’s the only one left at the Chronicle.