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19 May 2008

The pain of watching the newspaper industry die

Did you ever think, back in 1993, that the day might come where the newspaper industry was in serious trouble? Sad to say, it really is — and it won't be long before they're a thing of the past, just like 8-tracks, mimeograph machines and dittos (remember those cold, blue dittos you would sniff when the teacher handed them out) and the Betamax.

Yes, soon, newspapers may just be a thing of the past, something we'll all remember, yet might never again see sitting, well, on the newsstand.

The downward trend in the industry started well before the advent of the Internet, but the Internet has, without question, sped up the process. Think of it like this, if you will. I have spent years in the field of journalism, having been a reporter at two different newspapers and having been an editor at two newspapers. And the truth be told, I haven't purchased a hard copy of a newspaper in years. Quite frankly, there's no need to spend 50¢ or so for a newspaper when, for free, one can get the exact same news, in an online format, for nothing.

It's a shame, in a sense. Holding a newspaper and reading it while on a train or elsewhere was always exciting to me. Whether my own work was inside the newspaper made it even more thrilling. Ask any print journalist, and he or she will tell you that it never gets old reading your own work in print. It's hard to explain.

But is there room for newspapers anymore in this ever-technological world?

It's very hard to tell.

There is a generation, of course, that still relies on newspapers for everyday or weekly news. Many of those people have always relied on newspapers. These same people still send news items into the newsroom to announce their senior citizens meetings and trips to Atlantic City.

But as one goes down the generational line — to Baby Boomers to Generation Xers, we're finding that a newspaper is more of a nuisance to them than a benefit. Heading online to get news is as simple and as good as it gets. And considering the way people's schedules are packed, from sports to clubs to the kids and more, who has time to sit down, even on a Sunday, to read the very same news you knew about a day earlier, because you either saw it online on a blog or because you heard it on the radio or saw it on the television news?

The truth is, people just don't have time for newspapers anymore. If they get one sent home, even for free, taking time to actually read it is even more of a challenge than it's ever been before.

So how are newspapers surviving these days?

Well, in most cases, they're constantly using the Internet to augment their print product. If a newspaper refuses to embrace technology — and there really are some newspapers that haven't done this — they're destined to fold. Why should anyone have to wait until Tuesday to read about something that happened a week earlier? So in essence, the Internet has become a source for day-to-day news.

The newspaper, on the other hand, becomes a place to showcase advertisers — and a place for features, or, news without a timely element. If someone volunteers 30 hours a week and it's newsworthy, it's great for a newspaper, because the story is just as good on Monday as it will be Friday.

But if there's a shooting on the very same day a weekly newspaper is circulated, people are going to grow impatient having to wait to find out what happened. So newspaper editors have no other choice than to take to Cyberspace to disseminate information.

So, is there room for newspapers still? Absolutely. Is the niche as strong as it was in 1920? Absolutely not.

As sad as the notion is, it's one we're all (in this industry) going to have to embrace at one point or another.

There was a time people LOVED to tell others they had a VCR at home. Remember those monstrosities that used to have a top-loader? And yet, many people now have digital video recorders, and the concept is one most have embraced. Can you remember, now, the last time you were in Best Buy and saw someone looking at VCRs?

There was a time people would go for jogs or walks, and they'd have a portable CD player in hand. On comes Apple and the iPod, and the portable CD player becomes a distant memory — as does the CD, really. People have embraced this change.

So in a sense, just as we've accepted the DVR and the iPod, and have acknowledged the end of the VCR and CDs, so, too, comes the time where everyone, not just those in this industry, must admit the newspaper is becoming passe, as well. And it's a medium that may not be around much longer.

So while they're still around, let's enjoy them before they're gone. Because once they're gone, chances are they'll never be back.

And all we'll have to remember them are the faded ones we've got sitting in the basement in the closet.

And when that day comes, it will be sad, indeed. But we'll make it. Because just like every other form of media that has come and gone, we've survived.

And surprisingly, we usually wind up better for it.


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