Kill The Newspaper

A new Facebook group has launched, aimed at saving the printed newspaper. Almost everyone I know in the news business has joined this group in the last few days. I haven’t  joined, and I won’t. Here’s why.

The newspaper, as in the actual printed product, is quickly becoming irrelevant. Any news organization continuing to print a newspaper is practically guaranteeing their eventual failure, because they will never learn to become an online news organization. Their focus will remain on the printed product and the business model of that product, which runs counter to online success.

For me, this is a scary thing to say. I grew up on printed newspapers and have made my living working for them. I still do, in fact. Even suggesting that newspapers will not survive is considered sacrilege by many fellow journalists.

But let me be clear: I am not just saying that newspapers will eventually die. I am saying they need to be killed now if news organizations want to survive.

My entire career, I’ve listened to those who believe in newspapers preach the irreplaceable societal benefits of a newspaper, the civic importance of a local daily, and the resiliency of those newspapers (hell, I’ve even given the speech myself). After all, they survived radio, they survived television. They can survive the Internet.

Except, they can’t. Radio and TV had new, exciting features, but the same business model: Our readers/listeners/viewers will come to us instead of everyone else.

The Internet, especially in the last few years, has turned that model on its head. Online, people expect things to come to them. By things, I mean everything from friends to advertisers to news organizations. Specific to news, they are getting their news from news aggregators, bloggers, friends sharing links, and (for old-school new-media types) e-mail blasts. In all of those cases, the information is coming to them.

Yet newspapers continue to try to bring people to them, only now it’s with their websites. Those newspaper look and feel like a daily newspaper, which is not a compliment. Annoying ads interfere with reading, good stories with bad art are buried in a dead sea of headlines while weak stories with good art dominate the sliders. Technology that was new five years ago remains a foreign concept, especially tags, RSS feeds for specific writers or topics, and (amazingly) hyperlinks to other stories on their own sites.

When a newspaper actually does venture into social media, it’s sually nothing more than glorified spam, in the guise of headlines. The focus remains getting people to their websites, instead of trying to make themselves part of conversation. (Attempts by individua journalists are much more varied, and really a topic best left to another post).

As for those who still prech the intangibles of newspaper reading (the Sunday paper with coffee argument), I don’t dispute them. Only, my Sunday morning coffee is going to include something else that has been lost to the online revoluton: conversation. The headlines can wait.

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