Friday, October 10, 2008

Other Reasons Newspapers Are Dying

The long-held discussion surrounding the slow decline of newspapers almost always points to reporting. Papers are cutting back on bureaus because they are not getting the readership levels which causes a decrease in the quality of reporting which causes a decrease in readership which requires a closing of more bureaus... The conversation often then turns to on-line sources and whether the balance, the accuracy, the breadth can be found outside of traditional journalism.

It is easy enough to find many of the opinion makers on tv, so why read their columns when they'll tell you what was in them? With the notable exception of a few rare voices, there are better informed and better argued pieces on line. Digby or Richard Cohen? Hmmm, now there's a hard one. And there's the added advantage that you won't accidentally find yourself reading Maureen Dowd.

But newspapers are not merely their front and op/ed pages, and it seems that the downfall of the newspaper may be in these other places. The newspaper used to have a large number of functions besides world, national, and local news. The sports page was THE goto place for scores. Now SportsCenter makes it obsolete. Need a job or a car? You had no choice but to check the classified. Now with and Craig's List, we have another relic. Weather? Not a chance. Style?...out of style by the time the printed edition hits the step.

That seems to leave comics, obits, and crossword puzzles. The newspaper has been so successful for so long because it had so many social functions to fulfill in addition to printing all the news that fits, functions that seem to be residing elsewhere. What else can a newspaper be in the contemporary world of 24-hour cable and internet access? What are the niches that only a newspaper can fill?

One seems to be personal recognition. "Look, mom, I'm in the newspaper!" likely could never be replaced by "Look, mom, I'm mentioned on this website." What else is there that we need or could need newspapers for?