Monday, March 16th, 2009

More newspaper blood…

Goodbye Post-Intelligencer. Following the demise of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News (see previous post), Seattle has now lost the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which is going online-only under much-reduced circumstances.

It could be worse. Denver and Seattle were two-newspaper towns. The Denver Post and the Seattle Times remain, and may be expected to benefit from their competitors’ death.

The watch is therefore on for the first one-newspaper city to lose a newspaper. LibraryThing’s home town, Portland, Maine, is likely to lose its newspaper, the Portland-Press Herald (good report). But Portland is a small city. Losing the San Francisco Chronicle would be a real disaster.

The economy is one factor, of course. But the underlying shift is technological—the web is killing newspapers.

Should we care? Ultimately, as Clay Shirky writes: “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” (Shirky’s post should be required reading for publishers and libraries as well.) But, as Shirky realizes, there’s no guarantee that new models and new media—which will surely do interesting things—can support what traditional print journalism did. Bloggers can do a lot of good, but traditional journalism tackled the tedious and expensive tasks bloggers won’t. Ultimately, it’s unimportant whether we get our news online or in print, but it’s worth it to have someone who sits through all the city-council meetings and has longstanding sources where it counts.

There’s no question that newspapers have failed to adapt, but mostly in the sense that your head fails to adapt when it’s hit by a hammer. “New models” or no, newspapers, print and online, are in decline. Amateurs are great, but you need money in the system, and print newspapers were simply much better “money machines” than online is or will ever be. Printing costs bulk large in the imagination, but they don’t begin to make up the difference. And the audience won’t grow to make it up. The shrink is real. The internet is giving and will give us much, but it’s taking this away.

Goodbye Book World. In related news, The Washington Post is ending its Book World section, which will be downsized and folded into the regular Sunday paper.

Newspaper book reviews were going extinct before the recession. They’re practically ivory-billed woodpeckers now. Online reviews are largely to blame, and partially make up for the loss. But, again, if something is gained, we can’t deny that something is certainly being lost.

Am I wrong? I hope so. Tell me so on Talk.

Labels: newspapers

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