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Final edition: Twilight of the American newspaper
December 10, 2009 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Final edition: Twilight of the American newspaper. "Newspapers have become deadweight commodities linked to other media commodities in chains that are coupled or uncoupled by accountants and lawyers and executive vice presidents and boards of directors in offices thousands of miles from where the man bit the dog and drew ink."
posted by chunking express (91 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Finally the newspaper has died.
posted by graventy at 8:32 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


We will not read about newlyweds. We will not read about the death of salesmen. We will not read about prize Holsteins or new novels. We are a nation dismantling the structures of intellectual property and all critical apparatus. We are without professional book reviewers and art critics and essays about what it might mean that our local newspaper has died.

Yes, we certainly are without those.
posted by jckll at 8:37 AM on December 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


Hey newspaper industry: Just put out a weekend (Saturday or Sunday or both) edition with all the features and special sections, and comics page and real estate listings, including the hatched/matched/dispatched info. Better part time read then dead, right?
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:40 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's a fairly interesting look back at San Francisco's newspapers, but

If the San Francisco Chronicle is near death [...] it is because San Francisco’s sense of itself as a city is perishing.


seriously?
posted by graventy at 8:42 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would totally keep subscribing if I could choose what sections of the newspaper I wanted to read. In Sydney, I used to get this huge edition delivered home, and half of it went straight to the recycling bin.
posted by dhruva at 8:46 AM on December 10, 2009


Newspaper Industry: Do This

1) Subsidize an open Kindle
2) Sell subscriptions to an online, but local information DB that has stuff like (real) restaurant reviews and local news (obits, mayoral races, etc)
3) Display the latter on the former

Bingo, relevance.
posted by DU at 8:56 AM on December 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


Bring back the telegraph! Resurrect the carrier pigeon! Let's return to the days when news was disseminated on stone tablets!
posted by Eideteker at 9:00 AM on December 10, 2009


Before I RTFA, is there anything in it that hasn't been said over and over for the last ten years at least?
posted by echo target at 9:01 AM on December 10, 2009


This is just getting embarrassing. Die with some dignity, guys.
posted by enn at 9:03 AM on December 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


echo target: "hasn't been said over and over"

He compares the gold rush to burning man, so, uh, that's kinda novel.
posted by boo_radley at 9:03 AM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


I would totally keep subscribing if I could choose what sections of the newspaper I wanted to read.

Right, but that's the business model of newspapers. Some sections of the newspaper are cost centers and some sections are revenue centers. It's the same reason we don't get à la carte cable channel packages... almost nobody would actually choose to get the crappy channels.

See this great Clay Shirky article: “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.”
posted by dammitjim at 9:04 AM on December 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


In my city, quite a few homeless or near-homeless people make $30-40 a day selling the local newspaper at traffic lights. If the print version is killed here, I wonder if many of them will just start panhandling at the same places (or worse, windshield washing).
posted by Burhanistan at 9:06 AM on December 10, 2009


What this thread needs is some confident young men who spend too much of their time on the internet to chime in and declare that it's about time newspapers died, that anyone who believes otherwise is an ego-motivated old dinosaur who doesn't get it and is trying to hold back the tide of history.

Anyone?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:07 AM on December 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


Anyone?

Sometimes the consensus is the consensus because it is patently correct.
posted by enn at 9:08 AM on December 10, 2009


The obvious argument, though, is that maybe if people gave two shits about what happens in their local governments, business communities, public works, charities, etc etc then they wouldn't mind paying for a daily published news (online or print) that had the resources and manpower to go to all those places instead of just glossing over things with rehashes of press releases and transcripts.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:08 AM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


And in order to reserve these things for themselves they will plug up your eyes and your ears and your mouth, and if they can figure out a way to pump episodes of The Simpsons through the darkening corridors of your brain as you expire (add to shopping cart), they will do it.

i saw a hawk kill a sparrow in my apartment parking lot yesterday in the middle of the city

there are more eternal things in the world than anything written about in this article

i don't care what "they" do
posted by pyramid termite at 9:09 AM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Some mood music.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:10 AM on December 10, 2009


"Final edition: Twilight of the American newspaper"

Waiiiit a minute. Let's get some glitter, mix it into the paper pulp and tell naive young girls it's a vampire thing. A vampaper, if you will.
posted by boo_radley at 9:10 AM on December 10, 2009 [18 favorites]


And in other news, Editor and Publisher magazine has folded, after over 120 years.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:11 AM on December 10, 2009


Read this in the print version (!) when it arrived in the mail (!!) a few weeks back. Some lovely writing and some fine points, but it's all encased in such a gooey layer of nostalgic memoir masquerading as objective analysis that I didn't take much away from it other than that the dude really liked his paper route. Just because it meant a lot to your own development doesn't necessarily mean that the very ideas of civic life and civil democracy are impossible without it.

Even worse, the piece fails utterly to address the core economic and technological realities fueling the old institution's decline - the stuff, for example, Clay Shirky's on about with his argument that geographically specific daily newspapers only made sense when printing presses were big, expensive, centralized operations.

This, to my mind, is a big weakness of Harper's in recent years - it seems locked in a cycle of startled, outraged gawkery (see any number of LOLXIAN/GUNNUT-type immersive features they've run in the last while) and resigned lamentation. I still subscribe because every other issue or so someone knocks one out of the park (see, for example, Charles Bowden's extraordinary "The Sicario" in the May '09 issue). But man, do they really think the tides of time will reverse if they seem baffled enough or sad enough about the awful truths of the present moment?

On preview: Jinx, dammitjim.
posted by gompa at 9:15 AM on December 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


Go Team Sparkle! ... oh, it's not about Twilight being serialized or vampire news papers.

Hey newspaper industry: Just put out a weekend (Saturday or Sunday or both) edition

This is already done, and they are called "weekend editions." You can subscribe to otherwise costly publications for their Saturday and Sunday editions (and some papers toss in Friday, too).

I would totally keep subscribing if I could choose what sections of the newspaper I wanted to read.

People requested the same thing with cable and satellite TV, and that was never supported. The problem with section-specific distribution means organizing such printing and distribution. Think of being the paper-delivery person who would toss those out. A color-coded map would help, but it's a lot harder than chucking papers at every 3rd house (or however many people still get papers). Maybe if there were weekend special editions of individual sections, but it would still be a distribution headache.

Newspaper Industry: Do This - 1) Subsidize an open Kindle ...

Printing The NYT Costs Twice As Much As Sending Every Subscriber A Free Kindle, which I think was discussed previously, with some holes punched in the equations. Regardless, printing and distributing does cost quite a bit.

Rupert Murdoch thinks people will pay for online news, and realizes that very few of the younger generations read print papers (prev self-link). The problem is that there are so many free news sources, that there would have to be a coordinated shift to subscription or pay-per-view news for it to work.

In my city, quite a few homeless or near-homeless people make $30-40 a day selling the local newspaper at traffic lights.

I think that these are special publications in certain areas, so the concerns for the end of print newspapers changes a bit.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:18 AM on December 10, 2009


Richard Rodriguez has been writing doom-and-gloom essays on various themes for years, and while I admire his unvaryingly elegiac style, share his mood oftentimes, and respect his point of view, I don't think I would necessarily trust his musings on the end of the newspaper as we know it above the musings of someone with some actual knowledge of the industry (Jeff Jarvis?).

Nor is it the case that because he says San Francisco's sense of self is dying it is so. Herb Caen has been dead for 12 years. San Francisco has long since moved on. It is perhaps sad that San Francisco is not the place it was when Herb Caen was alive, but many things are sad.

It may be more true that Rodriguez's sense of himself in San Francisco is dying, as evinced by this mournful little coda: "In the growling gray light (San Francisco still has foghorns), I collect the San Francisco Chronicle from the wet steps. I am so lonely I must subscribe to three papers—the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle. I remark their thinness as I climb the stairs. The three together equal what I remember."
posted by blucevalo at 9:19 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I delivered Newsday, "Long Island's Picture Newspaper", for a couple of years. My second week on the job they hiked the price from 5 cents to a dime, making the subscription cost jump from 30 cents a week to 60. A number of my customers quit in protest, yet most were back within a year (which worked in my favor, as the paper was always having new subscription contests). I can't imagine this happening now.
posted by tommasz at 9:20 AM on December 10, 2009


"Before I RTFA, is there anything in it that hasn't been said over and over for the last ten years at least?"

Well, not with such a degree of sentimentality over the wonderfulness that is San Francisco.
posted by Naberius at 9:27 AM on December 10, 2009


I think the news should adopt a ransom system. They send reporters to Iraq and do investigative reports on the government, organizations, and businesses, and then people pay money via PayPal collectively until they get enough money to pay for the expedition, plus an appropriate margin. Until then, there's just a blank spot that says "WE HAVE A HOT STORY ON ACORN, PAY FOR IT READERS!" along with a cutesy thermometer that slowly fills up with cash. They could even have sub-thermometers to let them know how you want the story spun. If a ton of teabaggers pay for the story, it's the story of how ACORN is holding classes in public schools on pigfucking, and if a ton of liberals pay, it says that ACORN never really did anything wrong.

It's a free market solution. The news gets money, and we get the news we want.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:32 AM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is happening pretty much everywhere. There's a free daily newspaper here that's delivered straight to your mailbox, but they put the content of this paper - including a .pdf version of the print copy itself - on their website. The sole reason why I haven't called the company to tell them to stop delivering papers is I like to read something while eating breakfast. I don't want to get eggs on my laptop or put hot sauce smears in a book. A newspaper, though - you can slop that up as you please, because it's going in the recycling bin when you're done reading it, anyway.

I think a lot of people will hang on to subscriptions for little reasons like this, whether it's breakfast, being able to read the news while standing on the bus (admittedly I can do this through my mobile phone), being able to do the Jumble or whatever. As a source of news, though, yeah, it's pretty much dead.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:35 AM on December 10, 2009


No, San Francisco's sense of place is definitely not what it used to be. There really is no comparison.
posted by Kirklander at 9:35 AM on December 10, 2009


the stuff, for example, Clay Shirky's on about with his argument that geographically specific daily newspapers only made sense when printing presses were big, expensive, centralized operations.

Well, only make sense from a business perspective. One thing Rodriguez alludes to and Shirky hits head-on is, what happens to local journalism? You know, the Chronicle I'd wager still sends people to San Francisco city council meetings; do the weeklies cover those meetings if the Chronicle dies? How about smaller cities?

We don't need newspapers, we need journalism, writes Shirky; fine, but how do those journos get paid? No model for that; citizen journos step into the breach, fine, but if we then get what we pay for, journalism itself dies with newspapers. Unless you trust your local NBC affiliate to give your local news the attention it requires.
posted by kgasmart at 9:36 AM on December 10, 2009


The obvious argument, though, is that maybe if people gave two shits about what happens in their local governments, business communities, public works, charities.

I'd love to pay for something like that.
Instead I pay for reprinted AP articles and sports.
Hell, I'd continue to pay the exact same amount for half the physical paper if that half included in-depth writing about local events.*

Are you listening, local paper that prints way too much sports?

* and color comics.
posted by madajb at 9:38 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


The sooner newspapers die and get out of the way, the sooner we'll be able to enjoy the full, awesome online investigative reporting power from the likes of...hmmm...well...er.......let me get back to you on that, k?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:38 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


The problem is that there are so many free news sources, that there would have to be a coordinated shift to subscription or pay-per-view news for it to work.

Yes and no.
Yes, you can get AP stories pretty much anywhere online, and I suppose eventually the AP will figure out how to get paid for them.
But no, there aren't that many sources for local news stories (water rate hikes, infill standards, local political scandals), which is why I think newspapers will hang on basically forever, albeit in much reduced form.
posted by madajb at 9:42 AM on December 10, 2009


Was there anything in that article actually about newspapers? I couldn't find it. It was a nice love letter to past San Francisco but he barely even talks about newspapers in it.
posted by octothorpe at 9:44 AM on December 10, 2009


This is just getting embarrassing. Die with some dignity, guys.

The 120-year-old Editor & Publisher just went out of business in the same week they announced The Politico now sits on the Pulitzer Prize board. Dignity died quite some time ago, along with the bulk of America's respect for its own intelligence.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:54 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Newspapers aren't dying. Everybody step back from the ledge.

The common business model for newspapers is becoming obsolete.

News will always be printed and delivered to readers that want it.

It's just that the definitions of the terms "news," "printed," "delivered," "readers" and "want" are changing. Big fat hairy deal. It's happened before (anyone remember papers with all black and white photos?). It'll happen again.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:59 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


1) Subsidize an open Kindle

You mean like a PC that I can read whatever I want too on?

2) Sell subscriptions to an online, but local information DB that has stuff like (real) restaurant reviews and local news (obits, mayoral races, etc)

Why would anyone pay for that when there are tons of sites that do it for free already. Like trying to make money of classifieds with Craigslist around.
The problem with the newspaper industry, and the news industry in general is just redundancy. I read somewhere that there were something like 8,000 stories on "Balloon Boy" in the press. Now, leaving aside the unimportance of that particular story, do you really think there were 8,000 individual interesting facts that each of those stories uncovered? No, I'm sure the vast majority of those stories were just summarizing each other. Yet, journalists got paid to write each one of them.

In an information age, information is a commodity. But that's not a bad thing for readers and for people who want to be informed. It's a bad thing for people who make money rehashing the same stuff found in thousands of other papers, though.

The only difference between the newspaper industry and lots of other industries (from sub-prime mortgage brokers and real estate, to the music industry) is that the newspaper industry has a huge megaphone and loves navel gazing. So we all have to hear them as they rend their garments.

Besides in 10, 20 years journalists themselves will be replaced by text-generating programs. Just look at Google News Narratives for an example of how computer algorithms can tie news stories together to give a broad overview of the development of a story. In time, natural language processing systems will be able to decompose stories into sentences and recombine them with the exact information that's most interesting to you and that you haven't seen yet.

Also, fuck Rupert Murdoch.
posted by delmoi at 10:00 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Go Team Sparkle! ... oh, it's not about Twilight being serialized or vampire news papers.

I flinch every time I see the word "twilight" used in any context anymore.
posted by Foosnark at 10:01 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just finished reading the whole thing.
It made me nostalgic for San Francisco, even though I've never lived anywhere near there.
posted by madajb at 10:01 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


We no longer imagine the newspaper as a city or the city as a newspaper. Whatever I may say in the rant that follows, I do not believe the decline of newspapers has been the result solely of computer technology or of the Internet. The forces working against newspapers are probably as varied and foregone as the Model-T Ford and the birth-control pill. We like to say that the invention of the internal-combustion engine changed us, changed the way we live. In truth, we built the Model-T Ford because we had changed; we wanted to remake the world to accommodate our restlessness. We might now say: Newspapers will be lost because technology will force us to acquire information in new ways. In that case, who will tell us what it means to live as citizens of Seattle or Denver or Ann Arbor? The truth is we no longer want to live in Seattle or Denver or Ann Arbor. Our inclination has led us to invent a digital cosmopolitanism that begins and ends with “I.” Careening down Geary Boulevard on the 38 bus, I can talk to my my dear Auntie in Delhi or I can view snapshots of my cousin’s wedding in Recife or I can listen to girl punk from Glasgow. The cost of my cyber-urban experience is disconnection from body, from presence, from city.
I think this is where the flaw lies in his thinking. A newspaper is a reflection of a city, not the city itself. The loss of a single dead-tree paper (even one of the largest in the state of California) doesn't herald the death of a city, nor does it make that city culturally less relevant.

He is nostalgic for days gone by, when a newspaper was the best place a person could turn to for more information about a community. Yet San Francisco still has a thriving media base, with other newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and a plethora of devoted, specialized websites. None of which existed when the Chronicle was founded. The city has moved from being reflected by a single mirror to many over the last century. I'd say that's a good thing.
posted by zarq at 10:02 AM on December 10, 2009


Also, I have to wonder whether he shed a tear for the loss of the Gate, when it was swallowed whole by his beloved Chronicle.
posted by zarq at 10:04 AM on December 10, 2009


Also, fuck Rupert Murdoch.

You know what? I can't even waste time with "fuck Rupert Murdoch" anymore. He's an opportunist who has a partisan lean, but at the same time actually pays people.

Fuck Arianna Huffington. She's the one who revolutionized the wondrous new model of not paying reporters to report.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:05 AM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


People think it's newspapers that are dying, and that we'll lose investigative reporting because of it. But they're wrong. It's the AP (and its ilk) that are dying. Without an AP, news organizations would be forced to write their own stories, which would create a genuine competition, and people would pay for it, because it wouldn't be available elsewhere.

Possible Sequence:
1. Printed Newspapers die
2. News is free, but AP is the source.
3. AP starts to charge individuals (and effectively becomes a newspaper)
4. Indy news organizations start, and charge lower prices for local news.
5. Competition flourishes, News becomes local, Prices become reasonable.
6. A glorious new age of news powered by internet-enabled local media.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2009


.
posted by dbiedny at 10:09 AM on December 10, 2009


The 120-year-old Editor & Publisher just went out of business...

Holy shit. I thought you had to be joking and then my inbox flooded with the news.

Here are links to the story: AP and Barrons

They're an industry icon. :(
posted by zarq at 10:11 AM on December 10, 2009


TLDR - That article was way longer than 140 characters...
posted by LakesideOrion at 10:14 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Competition flourishes, News becomes local, Prices become reasonable.

Um, prices are reasonable NOW. Because everything that you used to have to pay perhaps as much as fifty cents for is now free. What still costs real life money is a journalist's living expenses. I predict a great deal of overlap between the descriptive terms "journalist" and "freegan" in the years to come. And everyone knows that hippies who eat out of dumpsters are the best investigative journalists of all.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:14 AM on December 10, 2009


The common business model for newspapers is becoming obsolete.

Yes, that would be the model that says "you're supposed to pay writers."
posted by neroli at 10:19 AM on December 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


as we come to the close of our late edition
this is my farewell publication
signing off
mr. and mrs. america, and all the vending machines
anyone within the city of publication
i've got 50000 copies in circulation
i want to blacken the silly putty
this press turns ink into words
can you read me now?
out on route 128, the dark and lonely
i got my reading light on
can you read me now?
can you read me now?
can you read me now?
can you read me now?
it's the end of print media
posted by wcfields at 10:34 AM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Reborn!
posted by JBennett at 10:35 AM on December 10, 2009


Reborn!

That more looks like involuntary excretion spasms at the throes of death. It does actually look kind of interesting, though.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, that would be the model that says "you're supposed to pay writers."

No, more like the business model that relies on a delivery method that consists of a semi-homeless guy in a pick-up truck throwing your product somewhere near your customer's house.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:57 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


In related news:
5 Top Publishers Plan Rival to Kindle Format -- "Five of the nation's largest publishers of newspapers and magazines are teaming up to challenge Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle electronic-book reader with their own technology."

Google Bundles Coverage from NY Times, Wash. Post -- "Google Inc. is teaming up with The New York Times and The Washington Post in its latest attempt to help out the ailing newspaper industry."

Apple Pitching Tablet to Publishing Industry -- "Company has been offering book publishers 'a very attractive proposal,' according to an analyst. He says to expect the device to launch in the spring and cost $1,000."
posted by ericb at 10:59 AM on December 10, 2009


Yes, that would be the model that says "you're supposed to pay writers."

You're only supposed to pay writers if you can't find someone who is willing to write (and quite well, to boot) for free.
posted by deadmessenger at 10:59 AM on December 10, 2009


You're only supposed to pay writers if you can't find someone who is willing to write (and quite well, to boot) for free.

Ha, yeah, why should people get paid for their work? Fuck 'em!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:07 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Personally I'm sick to death of hearing about the decline of print media because it makes the attempt to avoid bias futile. No one frets over the decline of print media except for people who work in print media, so the constant barrage of articles about how the newspaper industry is dying is really more about some reporter coming to terms with the layoffs down the hall than any actual "news."

That being said, a friend of mine bought the New York Times the morning Obama was elected because he said that in 1984 hope was kindled by reading a scrap of newspaper. I don't much wish to fetishize newsprint, but the point was romantic nevertheless.
posted by jefficator at 11:08 AM on December 10, 2009


One more point: where is the outcry about the decline of landline phones? Nowhere, because the technology that supercedes landlines has been monetized.

This is never a lament for an industry. Its whining about a lost revenue stream.
posted by jefficator at 11:09 AM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


In the past few weeks The Boston Globe has introduced GlobeReader
"GlobeReader, powered by Adobe AIR, is a downloadable software application offering a digital experience of The Boston Globe that is very much like reading the newspaper itself.

You get everything you’d expect from The Boston Globe in print, delivered straight to your computer in less then a minute. After you’ve synched, no Internet connection is needed, so you can take the most insightful journalism with you wherever you go."
The Globe's parent company offers TimesReader 2.0.
posted by ericb at 11:09 AM on December 10, 2009


Hey newspaper industry: Just put out a weekend (Saturday or Sunday or both) edition with all the features and special sections.

I suspect I'm not the only person who only buys the Sunday NYT, and reads it over the next three or four days of breakfast.

I can't imagine having time to read each day's edition. Maybe if someone broke my Internet.
posted by rokusan at 11:10 AM on December 10, 2009


One more point: where is the outcry about the decline of landline phones? Nowhere, because the technology that supercedes landlines has been monetized.

Yeah, it has nothing to do with the fetishization of newsprint and everything to do with the fetishization of affording food and a place to live.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:12 AM on December 10, 2009


Cool Papa Bell: "No, more like the business model that relies on a delivery method that consists of a semi-homeless guy in a pick-up truck throwing your product somewhere near your customer's house."

And the fact that they do this a 4 AM and by the time I get up at 6:30 someone has stolen my copy off the porch. So I open the laptop and read the on-line edition.
posted by octothorpe at 11:13 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


No one frets over the decline of print media except for people who work in print media, so the constant barrage of articles about how the newspaper industry is dying is really more about some reporter coming to terms with the layoffs down the hall than any actual "news."

So, this historic restructuring of how we collectively receive our information and its many impacts, be they cultural, technological, social, psychological (not to mention the aforementioned industry and financial changes) isn’t news?
posted by tiger yang at 11:18 AM on December 10, 2009


You're only supposed to pay writers if you can't find someone who is willing to write.

You mean someone like the guy from Harrah's, or most of the side-barred items for that matter? Because that could be pretty damn cool.
posted by klarck at 11:18 AM on December 10, 2009


Ha, yeah, why should people get paid for their work? Fuck 'em!

I've really no opinion on whether they should or shouldn't. I'm saying that it's unrealistic to expect to be paid for performing a service that others are voluntarily performing for free. It's simple microeconomics. At the moment there is a sufficient supply of quality journalism to meet demand at a price of zero, thus, that's the market price for it. Those expecting to be paid are unlikely to find buyers. That may change in the future with market conditions, but for the moment, that's how the world works.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:31 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Something funny I have noticed, perhaps you have noticed it, too. You know what futurists and online-ists and cut-out-the-middle-man-ists and Davos-ists and deconstructionists of every stripe want for themselves? They want exactly what they tell you you no longer need, you pathetic, overweight, disembodied Kindle reader. They want white linen tablecloths on trestle tables in the middle of vineyards on soft blowy afternoons. (You can click your bottle of wine online. Cheaper.) They want to go shopping on Saturday afternoons on the Avenue Victor Hugo; they want the pages of their New York Times all kind of greasy from croissant crumbs and butter at a café table in Aspen; they want to see their names in hard copy in the “New Establishment” issue of Vanity Fair; they want a nineteenth-century bookshop; they want to see the plays in London, they want to float down the Nile in a felucca; they want five-star bricks and mortar and do not disturb signs and views of the park. And in order to reserve these things for themselves they will plug up your eyes and your ears and your mouth, and if they can figure out a way to pump episodes of The Simpsons through the darkening corridors of your brain as you expire (add to shopping cart), they will do it.

We will end up with one and a half cities in America—Washington, D.C., and American Idol. We will all live in Washington, D.C., where the conversation is a droning, never advancing, debate between “conservatives” and “liberals.” We will not read about newlyweds. We will not read about the death of salesmen. We will not read about prize Holsteins or new novels. We are a nation dismantling the structures of intellectual property and all critical apparatus. We are without professional book reviewers and art critics and essays about what it might mean that our local newspaper has died. We are a nation of Amazon reader responses (Moby Dick is “not a really good piece of fiction”—Feb. 14, 2009, by Donald J. Bingle, Saint Charles, Ill.—two stars out of five). We are without obituaries, but the famous will achieve immortality by a Wikipedia entry.
This strikes me as prescience without imagination.

To explain: you can look at the media consumption habits of people 30 and younger (why not pick an arbitrary age), and see that it's increasingly moving towards a globally connected community with limited professional input. This is probably true. Failing some huge economic, technological, or act-of-God failure that cripples the internet, this is probably what's going to happen.

He lacks imagination in that he only sees the bad outcome of this: a world that is entirely self focused, easilly lead, and increasingly shallow. It's intellectually dishonest to say that people weren't self-focused, easilly lead, and shallow before the internet (or the television, or the radio, or the telegraph, or the printed word), and to deny the coming generation the benefit of the doubt in negotiating at least a status quo (maybe even an improvement) in the media environment that they've come of age in.

Afterall, in his golden era of the generation of the newspaper, flower children, and the grateful dead, we had our current generation of leaders who've destroyed political discourse, trashed the environment, and started untold wars of convenience (not to mention perpetuating the idea that the Grateful Dead make music worth hearing, but I digress).
posted by codacorolla at 11:45 AM on December 10, 2009


"Unless you trust your local NBC affiliate to give your local news the attention it requires."

Just heard a radio ad from the New York Times saying they're Chicago's best newspaper.
So they're going to fly out from New York to cover the council meetings? Gosh wonder what the park district is doing? I guess I'll read the NYT who called the park district commissioner instead of talking to anyone in the area.

"I'm saying that it's unrealistic to expect to be paid for performing a service that others are voluntarily performing for free. It's simple microeconomics."

Exactly why there's no prostitution in the world.
But that's the problem - you're not paying for writing, you're paying so the journalist doesn't care one way or the other. If someone is doing it for free, odds are they have a vested interest. I don't know anyone who will dig up the stuff people don't want made public unless they're invested in the opposition. What, some Dem or GOPer is going to break a story from their respective conventions about some malfeasance going on? And if it's the other side breaking it, how can you trust the spin?
Other than paying them, there's no real way to assure their independence. Of course, I mean, paying journalists, not the vast overhead laden group of media conglomerates of the 'news business.'
posted by Smedleyman at 11:59 AM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


At the moment there is a sufficient supply of quality journalism to meet demand at a price of zero, thus, that's the market price for it

I.. I don't know where to start with you on this comment, but I feel I must engage it. Outside of juicy politics or celebrity gossip, where are you seeing this quality journalism?
posted by cavalier at 12:00 PM on December 10, 2009


I'm saying that it's unrealistic to expect to be paid for performing a service that others are voluntarily performing for free.

Ah, this is one of those threads where we pretend that 90%of Cool Online Media doesn't have a parasitic relationship with Stuffy Old Traditional Media.

There are exceptions of course, like where we pretend that some stolen snarky email represents a vast conspiracy from the majority of the world's climate scientists. Fantastic.
posted by mobunited at 12:00 PM on December 10, 2009


Fuck it. There was a point when newspapers became profitable enough that they were purchased by multinational corporations who had precious little interest in the news and a lot of interest in making money, and they weeded out everything unprofitable and unpopular, regardless of if it was reportage audiences needed to be informed about their world. They also started adding in all sorts of horseshit features, and pushing for conservative columnists who weren't columnists at all but were part of the partisan noise machine, spinning lies into talking points without any editorial oversite, merely because the owners were conservatives and because conservative readers had gotten into a kick of constantly whining about there being a liberal agenda -- a liberal agenda that has never been demonstrated. The started to focus on personalities rather than news and, bit by bit, newspapers got dumber. When the Web wiped out their business model, they floundered, and, despite the fact that they for the most part remained profitable, they responded with hysteria because they weren't making the umpteen billion dollars per year that they made at their peak. So they cut writers. They cut editors. The cut layour people. Here in Minnesota, they even fired the old women who had worked in the phone room for decades, all while the publisher bought himself a multimillion dollar home on a lake.

Let it crash and burn. The people who really care about news will find a way to report the news and find a way to get paid for it, while the scum who ruined it will move on to the next profitable business they can burn their way through. As Roger Ebert said recently, newspapers are back in the hands of people who care about news. I don't know that those people will actually be publishing to newsprint, but they'll find a way, and without the shakles put on them by greed and stupidity.

I have hopes that this twilight of news print is just leading to a new dawn of reporting. It may take a few years, and that's a shame, because I think we really do need news, and news is not free, so there has to be a way to pay reporters to do the time-consuming and expensive work of breaking stories. But it'll happen. And, frankly, newspapers abandoned that job years ago. We have been living in a world of non-news for so long, we might be astounded when it actually returns.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:06 PM on December 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


I'd feel worse about this if journalists would stop treating me (and everybody else) like idiots.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 12:10 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can someone tell me whether newspapers have actually become unprofitable, or are they just not profitable enough for their conglomerated owners to keep around?

-
posted by General Tonic at 12:14 PM on December 10, 2009


Can someone tell me whether newspapers have actually become unprofitable, or are they just not profitable enough for their conglomerated owners to keep around?

In many, many cases, the latter.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:16 PM on December 10, 2009


They also started adding in all sorts of horseshit features, and pushing for conservative columnists who weren't columnists at all but were part of the partisan noise machine, spinning lies into talking points without any editorial oversite, merely because the owners were conservatives and because conservative readers had gotten into a kick of constantly whining about there being a liberal agenda -- a liberal agenda that has never been demonstrated.

Thank God you never see any of that in blogging.
posted by mobunited at 12:18 PM on December 10, 2009


Thank God you never see any of that in blogging.

There are many blogs which do not feature those things and, in this town, exactly zero such daily newspapers.
posted by enn at 12:25 PM on December 10, 2009


I am under no illusion that bloggers can fill the role of newspapers. If Minnesota's bloggers took over the news, the Star Tribune would consist of teary rememberances of dead pets, first-person accounts of dates, essays on toilet paper folding in hotels, the very worst partisan political writing you have ever read, and a lot of restaurant reviews. Oh, and my contribution: limericks.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:26 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I encourage you to subscribe to your local paper. Most subscriptions aren't that expensive. Subscribing just might help support, you know, your local paper. Also, write them and tell them if you think they are doing a crappy job. Maybe they'll listen and change things. And if you're really peeved, you can call them. Local newspapers have telephones. They regularly answer them, so far as I know. They might just talk to you about how to improve things.

Or you could just read the NYT online for free and forget about all that petty local stuff.
posted by MarshallPoe at 12:27 PM on December 10, 2009


This isn't a reason the newspaper is dying, but it seems to me that what's been eroding in print for forty years, and what the internet hasn't changed - is the level of highly informed, ideologically coherent, and intelligently composed discourse. The reasons for this are, I surmise, legion - but much of it has to do with the way public officials (abetted by market pressures) have learned to shape and manage the ideas and core assumptions of those who report on them.

The internet didn't invent the shallow he said/she said "balance" and editorial parroting of talking points we've come to expect from cable, blogs, newspapers alike. The internet also didn't invent the short American attention span, the anti-intellectualism, the distaste for critical thinking, or the increasing de-localization of our culture. Those forces are bigger than the internet.

Rather than debate the merits of the internet vs the newspaper, I'd rather hear how every journalist, amateur or professional, print or digital - is going to address themselves to what I view as the 2 key problems of contemporary news: 1. Access - or finding ways to get around the trickle of information that is consituted by the "strategic leak" and the wall of silence and 2. Smashing Groupthink - forging of editorial identity outside the ideology of the dominant political parties.

I don't lament the death of the newspaper because in recent years, they have shown themselves woefully incapable of addressing themselves to this problem (that Paul Krugman's tame criticisms of Obama's economic policy stand out as an example of "against the grain" editorializing is the greatest evidence of this). I have hope for the internet, mostly because of its decentralized multi-cast model. But I don't see a lot of bloggers armed with excellent information, ideological independence, and superlative writing ability - all at the same time. (I'd be much sadder if I thought 'Democracy Now' were going away than I am to hear both local news and the NYT might.)

The sad thing is that journalism schools and the vague notion of journalism as a "profession" have proven just as incapable of giving us the journalism we deserve as the internet. So what's the solution?

Certainly funding is one issue, but it's not the only issue. In fact, it seems to me that one of the few things we know for sure is that news markets are certainly incapable of giving us the news we deserve. Paying people is clearly not enough to produce good news. And history bears out the idea that properly educated and motivated people will make an impact even where direct remuneration is non-existent.

So can we focus on the people? How do we make exceptional journalists and institutions of journalism? Once we make them, we can figure out how to support them. Horse, then cart.
posted by macross city flaneur at 12:43 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


My local paper provides a crucial medium for letter writers alarmed about SOCIALIST-FASCIST OBAMACARE.

I don't see that kind of local flavor migrating online any time soon.

HAMBOOGAIR
posted by everichon at 12:44 PM on December 10, 2009


I moved to the Bay Area in 1979, and I have to say -- I absolutely LOATHED Herb Caen. Ugh ugh ugh.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 1:13 PM on December 10, 2009


If the San Francisco Chronicle is near death [...] it is because San Francisco’s sense of itself as a city is perishing.

If the Chronicle is near death, it's because it sucks. It doesn't hold a candle to the Washington Post, New York Times, or, more locally, the San Jose Mercury-News.

This isn't a reason the newspaper is dying, but it seems to me that what's been eroding in print for forty years, and what the internet hasn't changed - is the level of highly informed, ideologically coherent, and intelligently composed discourse.

Forget it, Jake. It's Nixonland.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:46 PM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't think anyone has pointed out that the "sense of a city" here is entirely mythical. Before the newspapers, you could rely on personal communication to define what a city meant to you. At their peak, the newspapers were a vehicle for class warfare. The important people were the ones who appeared in the Society pages. The unimportant might merit inclusion in the police blotter, if anywhere.

So the great majority of the population has moved on, and the city will be a real city again. We'll talk about what matters to us in our blogs rather than gawking over the actions of our rulers. Good riddance to newspapers.
posted by shii at 2:01 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fuck Arianna Huffington. She's the one who revolutionized the wondrous new model of not paying reporters to report.
Well it's not like you have anything to worry about with the mad cash that must be rolling for all these metafilter comments and FPPs, right?

Please. The Huffington Post allows people to post on the site, just like Metafilter and a million other websites. I don't exactly see why there's so much opribom directed at this particular site. Because it has the word "post" in it? Or because it's within the radar screens of dead-end hacks angry about the loss of their monopoly on discourse?

Well who knows. But obviously it also has plenty of staff reporters. They're the ones who hired Dan Froomkin after the WaPo fired him, for example.
Just heard a radio ad from the New York Times saying they're Chicago's best newspaper. So they're going to fly out from New York to cover the council meetings?
The New York Times is a 1.3 billion dollar company. I'm sure they have some some reporters in Chicago. They also probably have a "local" section that goes out in Chicago.
you're paying so the journalist doesn't care one way or the other.
No, you're paying for journalism that pretends to be unbiased as a marketing gimmick. Either that, the reporters just don't know enough to have an opinion.
posted by delmoi at 2:12 PM on December 10, 2009


Can someone tell me whether newspapers have actually become unprofitable, or are they just not profitable enough for their conglomerated owners to keep around?

My local paper is not owned by a large media conglomerate and it has had a rough time the last couple of years.
The cost of printing and delivery has risen quite a bit (especially delivery) and with the downturn in the economy, there are less ads and less money from those ads that are left.
They've responded by cutting staff, cutting newsprint size, and adding those stupid "lifestyle magazine" inserts.

I have little doubt they will hang on in some form as they are the paper in the region, but definitely in a lesser form.
posted by madajb at 3:19 PM on December 10, 2009


Besides in 10, 20 years journalists themselves will be replaced by text-generating programs. […] In time, natural language processing systems will be able to decompose stories into sentences and recombine them
This only works if they have stories to decompose and recombine. And anyway, reshuffling the news is a function that's quite adequately performed by legions of bloggers reposting news tidbits on their blogs. That's not the problem. The problem is how to get the news in the first place. Unless we can figure out how to pay people to become skilled at gathering news, there will be very few people who are skilled at gathering news, and as a result the news will not be gathered and we will live in relative ignorance. No amount of Googly text-mining will change that.

Anecdote: For a number of years, until it went out of business, I subscribed to my local paper, even though I'm firmly in the demographic that gets its news online for free. Why? Not out of a nostalgia for newsprint, but because that's where the news was coming from. You know how when people post stuff, they'll often give credit to where they saw it? And if you see enough interesting posts “[via FooBlog]”, you'll probably decide to read FooBlog for a while to get the stuff from the source? That's how I found MetaFilter, for example. And that's what led me to subscribe to my city's newspaper. Most of it was dross, of course, and I felt bad having a pile of newsprint delivered every day 90% of which went straight to recycling. Even the original content (stuff other than ads and wire stories) was mostly uninteresting to me. But there was a steady trickle of useful and interesting stuff, and from time to time a real gem of investigative reporting. Like a number of other commenters here and in similar threads, I would gladly keep paying people to produce that news for me … if I could.
posted by hattifattener at 3:38 PM on December 10, 2009


what DU said upthread

Digital distribution and the internet will kill the newspaper quite thoroughly unless they embrace it further. For the people who still like to hold something in their hand when they read the paper, push the kindle and digital subscriptions. Everybody else is just going to use the internet.
posted by tehloki at 3:39 PM on December 10, 2009


I've really no opinion on whether they should or shouldn't.

I think that's the thing that's kind of blowing my mind here. I guess it really shouldn't. You'd think all this technology would have made people smarter, but instead it just seems to trigger latent asperger's. Good luck getting all your news from boing boing and Perez Hilton, I guess.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:18 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I admire Rodriguez's writing but he loses me on this one. Maybe it's a generational thing (and I'm not that much younger than him) but I feel empowered by the internet to find the news and opinion that's relevant to me, as opposed to what a jagoff villager like David Broder thinks I should be reading, a guy who's made a career out of masking his Republican ideology as "balanced, serious" thinking.

Fuck 'em.

That said, I do regret that my first home-town paper, the Washington Post, has become such a parody of itself. It can't die soon enough.
posted by bardic at 6:24 PM on December 10, 2009


It's a crying shame that US papers had become so shit before the heat was really on, because there's now this sense of "fuck it, who'll miss 'em?".

The UK press has been reduced, sure, but it didn't lose its balls: there was lots of noise about Iraq while all the US papers were toeing the line, for instance. Of course, our papers are also headed straight down the tubes.

The other frustrating thing is that without investigative journalists, we're not even going to have known unknowns. We literally won't know what we're missing because we'll have so little inkling of what is going on in secret, unscrutinised, unwatched. So one day we'll look to the partisan political polemics offered by our blogs, and say "what was all that fuss about newspapers anyway? We're no worse off at all."

We just won't know what we don't know.
posted by bonaldi at 6:59 PM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


"...the Star Tribune would consist of teary rememberances of dead pets, first-person accounts of dates, essays on toilet paper folding in hotels, the very worst partisan political writing you have ever read, and a lot of restaurant reviews."

You mean like a bad thing?
Actually, our ex-governor Rod Blagojevich has opened my eyes to the pure gruesome majesty that is self-revelation. He's doing the whole Dante, Malebolge, Mohammad thing "See how I tear myself: see how Blago is ripped!" except writ large in books, on talk shows.... If we didn't know how screwy he was before, we know now.
...hmmm, I suppose that makes Fitzgerald the beast Geryon...
posted by Smedleyman at 7:41 PM on December 10, 2009


"So one day we'll look to the partisan political polemics offered by our blogs, and say "what was all that fuss about newspapers anyway? We're no worse off at all." We just won't know what we don't know."

Ah, it's probably not by design.
Look at North Korea, they seem pretty content with their media. I hear the chocolate ration just got increased.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:42 PM on December 10, 2009


The problem with the newspaper industry, and the news industry in general is just redundancy. I read somewhere that there were something like 8,000 stories on "Balloon Boy" in the press

The problem with the death of newspapers is the death of investigative journalism. I'm talking people spending all of their time on months long investigations, typically of fraud, corruption, and even of things like drug lords and human trafficking. It is done by professionals who often rely on a lifetime of contacts created through a lifetime of investigative journalism.

If this dies, then the fraud and corruption will blossom unchecked, underneath our noses. We'll know that lots of bad things are happening, but we won't why or how or who is behind it. Something needs to replace newspapers in filling this important function.

The article was more how a single voice for a city could help define it. Although I grew up reading the Chronicle, including Herb Caen, Art Hoppe, L.M.Boyd and all the other wonderful columnists this paper had, this kind of writing doesn't need a newspaper and exists everywhere, including many of the people who comment here on the Blue.

As for his nostalgia for San Franciso of old, he is right that Silicon Valley has now overshadowed SF in many ways. It has Apple, Intel, AMD, Yahoo, Google, and many other such world changing companies all within a few miles of each other. But I don't see it as disconnected from San Francisco. The energy of Silicon Valley, is really the energy of the Bay Area as a whole, including, especially, the beautiful and culturally wonderful city that San Francisco will always be, even without the San Francisco Chronicle.
posted by eye of newt at 9:24 PM on December 10, 2009


I believe the thing many people aren't getting - and this is certainly indicative of the whole problem - is that Rodriguez is *not* referring to you when he talks about the forward-thinking, print is dead folks who quietly want 19th Century pleasures. Most of you are not those people because you're too poor.

The folks he's talking about are invested in the concentrated hosting and dissemination of content and would rather not have to pay anyone to produce it, or get it at such a per word/per bit bargain that it's hardly paying for anything at all. *These* are the people who can afford authenticity. They are a slightly different set than Evil News Conglomerates, but only *slightly.* They can afford material authenticity and informational authenticity (if they want to know something, they'll hire someone to find it out and probably won't bother telling you). But all and all, providers like search engines don't really care if anything they redistribute is true. That's why even though Google has the technology to record a full chain of reportage back to its ultimate source and cross-reference it to provide context, it's not a problem that, to my knowledge, it really gives a shit about. It makes more economic sense for to encourage a deluge of disposable content that costs nothing or next to nothing.

Certainly, there are huge problems with the state of journalism today, but I think many of these problems arise from the intense pressure exerted by online content providers as part of an intentional strategy, not a simple emergent property of the technology. It was not inevitable for search engine to provide ad revenue streams to blogs that just file the serial numbers off of Associated Press, and it is telling that ranking is increasingly weighted toward freshness, not whoever broke a story first. In effect, the trend is to reward the last word. The people who espouse the wisdom of crowds do so because crowds (as opposed to unions) are cheap and too disorganized to deal with being screwed -- in fact, they believe they're being honored. They're not -- and you're not. I don't blame journalists for responding by producing things as quickly and cheaply as possible to match pay scales that are being poleaxed by market forces.
posted by mobunited at 12:05 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


That said, I do regret that my first home-town paper, the Washington Post, has become such a parody of itself. It can't die soon enough.

In all seriousness, I truly believe that statements like this will send shivers down people's spines a few decades from now, when we look back and see the cavalier glibness with which we dismissed the value of professional journalism.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:08 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


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