Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Are Newspapers Going the Way of the Dinosaur?

There has been a lot of discussion recently (and, really, for the last decade or longer) about whether or not the newspaper is a dying breed. Newspaper subscriptions have been on a downward trend for about 15 years, with many news junkies turning to radio, television and the Internet as their preferred sources of news. San Antonio Express-News public editor, Bob Richter, recently posed to his readers whether or not newspapers are dying, or rather, committing suicide. His reasoning for this question was based on a recent newsroom discussion begun when one of the paper's editors sent out a recent PBS article discussing the trend of many publications sending their readers online to get additional information or “the rest of the story.”

Richter goes on to discuss Internet access around the U.S. and the impact of directing people online. "Most studies of Internet penetration indicate that about 70 percent of Americans have access to it. A Pew Internet & American Life Project survey last year agreed with that figure, but cited others that indicate access isn't that high in South Texas, precisely: Only 33 percent of people 65 and older, 56 percent of Hispanics, 49 percent of those earning under $30,000 a year and only 36 percent of those who lack a high school diploma use the Internet, said the Pew survey."

Richter cites a complaint from one of his readers who doesn't have or want Internet access. His reader says whenever the newspaper refers readers to a Web site it also should provide an 800 telephone number for readers who don't have Internet access.

In a brief discussion with Richter about this topic, he pointed out that the newspaper industry has never really given their readers all the news. “We used to just leave it on the composing room floor,” he says. “Now we're trying to give readers more, but we're just insulting these old readers by letting them know what they can't have.”

Perhaps it’s not so much an issue of the internet cannibalizing on the newspaper as much as it is a generational issue. The 18-34 set doesn’t depend on the ink and paper version of the news that our parents and (to a much larger degree) our grandparents craved for their information. And, with so many other seemingly faster (and more timely) sources of information, perhaps the daily paper just isn’t “high-speed” enough for our on-demand world. If I can check the latest box scores on my cell phone, why do I need the sports section?

Besides, the black ink that rubs off on my hands doesn’t really go well with my new manicure (maybe I could pay extra for a laminated copy?). And, it’s so cumbersome to stretch out that huge newspaper format across my lap when I can just poke around on my Blackberry while driving 75 miles an hour down 281 on my way to work.

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