Posted March 26, 2007 10:01 am by with 5 comments

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Did you enjoy the spring weather this weekend? If you were outside for most of the weekend, you likely missed the debate on the future of print news, started by a rumor from Tim O’Reilly.

I’m hearing rumors that the San Francisco Chronicle is in big trouble. Apparently, Phil Bronstein, the editor-in-chief, told staff in a recent “emergency meeting” that the news business “is broken, and no one knows how to fix it.” (“And if any other paper says they do, they’re lying.”) Reportedly, the paper plans to announce more layoffs before the year is out.

That started a huge debate with many bloggers discussing whether print news is dead or not.

Mathew Ingram from Toronto’s The Globe and Mail suggested it’s mixed news for print

…plenty of people are also getting their news from free papers, which have been growing at an incredible rate. That definitely means trouble for the newspaper industry’s current business models, but not necessarily for print itself. But there are still hundreds of millions of people subscribing to newspapers, and likely will be for decades, even if that number decreases.

Robert Scoble believes that his “son would never subscribe to, nor read, a newspaper” and doesn’t hold out much hope for newspapers…

I thoroughly believe that. I’ve seen the future of newspapers (and really all printed content) and it isn’t print…The journalism industry needs to implement major, wholesale, changes…Both Bay Area major newspapers have been laying journalists off in droves. It’s so sad, but it was something that we could see coming for quite a while. The trend will continue.

Mark Evans, a former journalist, and now online tech blogger, doesn’t agree with Scoble’s take

Part of Scoble’s problem is he’s really not representative of the general public and he’s basing his thesis on what’s happening in his own backyard. First, Scoble’s a geek (and that’s not meant to be a criticism). Like a lot of tech savvy people, I suspect he gets most, if not all, of his news online so I’d be surprised he subscribed to a newspaper.

Evans suggests that newspapers are indeed adapting…

One of the biggest flaws in the newspapers are dead argument is the assumption that the print format is going away. This simply isn’t accurate. What’s really happening is newspapers are evolving into multi-media entities that use newsprint and the Web (text, podcasts, blogs and, fairly soon, video) to reach out to readers and advertisers.

Finally heavy-hitters Dave Winer and Doc Searls offer some advice and tactics for newspapers to adopt, if they are to survive in the online age.

From Winer…

First, reform journalism school…Second, embrace the best bloggers…You need to find a way to tap into the excitement of the Internet, to bring it into your publication. In the tech business they call this “embrace and extend.”

From Searls…

…please, open up the archives. Stop putting tomorrow’s fishwrap behind paywalls…Start following, and linking to, local bloggers and even competing papers…Start looking to citizen journalists (CJs) for coverage of hot breaking local news topics…

I’ve had some conversations recently with other mainstream media outlets and there’s definitely a lot more that can be done to embrace “citizen journalism” and also engage readers using platforms other than print (or TV). While I think mainstream media is in for a huge upheaval, I don’t believe it’s dead…there’s just some natural selection going on.

  • Local news is not easily found online. In my family, we are strongly newspaper oriented because we are active in our community and have grown up here. The local news is like reading about the extended family. My son is heavily involved in school and community sports and likes to read local sports coverage or see his teams’ news (sometimes his name too!). We have no local online news source that is user oriented. Two local papers do have websites but both are usability nightmares, which keeps us buying the print version.

    For mobile devices, news headlines are about the only thing that works. To read an entire article requires squishing it to fit and tons of scrolling. I’ve only been desperate enough to do this in an airport and then, I finally get frustrated and buy a magazine.

    One of my local newspapers has a website where they start a piece, but to see the rest of it, you have to buy the newspaper.

    There remain teachers in schools who make it a homework assignment to cut current events from newspapers or news magazines. Subscriptions are indeed down, but that’s because printing costs are so high, making it not affordable to subscribe for the long term.

    We are readers in my house, of magazines, books and newspapers. My son, who is 13, loves the newspaper. My daughter has no interest and could care less about the news. Younger son is still learning to read. Husband never read newspapers and still won’t. I think sometimes it’s just habit and preference, not the end of the world for print.

  • I can’t see all newspapers dying out. I think print media will become more of a local niche market in the future like Kim was saying earlier. Most local and small media outlets don’t have the money or tech savyness compared to a large outlet such as the NY Times. It’s just easier and quicker to find world news online. Things happen around the world all the time and it’s nice to have that information in real time.

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