End Times?
January 6, 2009 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Virtually all the predictions about the death of old media have assumed a comfortingly long time frame for the end of print—the moment when, amid a panoply of flashing lights, press conferences, and elegiac reminiscences, the newspaper presses stop rolling and news goes entirely digital. Most of these scenarios assume a gradual crossing-over, almost like the migration of dunes, as behaviors change, paradigms shift, and the digital future heaves fully into view. But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if The New York Times goes out of business—like, this May? posted by netbros (62 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well if the New York Times goes out of business then that'll be the end of print. Bingo.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:17 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Is this a real numbers problem? Or just the stoopid?

If there are no actual papers, what will bloggers base their blogs on? Primary sources? (Not you, those other bloggers who are tools. You're the best. Really.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:21 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's ironic that a 150 year old print magazine is at least 2 months late with this story.

That's irony, right?
posted by Joe Beese at 9:22 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

At some point soon—sooner than most of us think—the print edition, and with it The Times as we know it, will no longer exist.

I'm of a certain age where it was once an attractive fantasy to imagine being part of a couple sprawling out on the hardwood floors of their ramshackle Upper West Side digs reading the Times together on Sunday morning. In fact, the idea of someone being unable to do this would have been a deal-breaker.

Well, I never got the girl, either ....

I did have the experience of waiting for the Times to be thrown off a truck at about 12:05 a.m. the morning after the crash. You know, the big one. No, the one 20 years ago. Yes, that was big. And back then, so was the Times.
posted by dhartung at 9:28 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am not being snarky or sarcastic at all when I say that this is one of the most unsettling things I've read in months.
posted by danb at 9:34 PM on January 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

They are paying Bill Kristol to write a column--obviously they are spiraling down the drain.
posted by RussHy at 9:34 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Times has been on a steady march toward temporarily profitable lifestyle fluff. Escapes! Styles! T magazine(s)! For a time, this fluff helped underwrite the foreign bureaus, enterprise reporting, and endless five-part Pulitzer Prize aspirants. But it has gradually hollowed out journalism’s brand, by making the newspaper feel disposable.
So. The value of journalism has been watered down due to the NYT (and others) filling their pages with crap like "Thursday Styles", but somehow publishing exclusively in a medium that runs on porn, lolcats, and viral videos is going to magically fix things?
posted by xbonesgt at 9:38 PM on January 6, 2009 [8 favorites]

There is an interesting discussion posted by Adamu over at Mutant Frog about this very subject. Chris Salzberg from Global Voices provides a couple of interesting links...
posted by KokuRyu at 9:43 PM on January 6, 2009

my local paper is shrinking its monday, tuesday and wednesday editions - so i don't know how well they're doing either

hopefully they last until my subscription runs out in six months
posted by pyramid termite at 9:49 PM on January 6, 2009

While I don't accept the underlying premise that the Times will go completely out of existence, let's pull apart what this article says that means:

1) For those of us old enough to still care about going out on a Sunday morning for our doorstop edition of The Times, it will mean the end of a certain kind of civilized ritual that has defined most of our adult lives.

Civilized ritual? On Sundays? Many people call that sort of thing "church." Or, if you prefer, "breakfast in bed." Alternatively, "spending time with the kids." Much as I enjoy my Times Magazine, I read it whenever I get to it. Real "civilized" rituals are about engagement with people, not Sudoku puzzles.

2) It will also mean the end of a certain kind of quasi-bohemian urban existence for the thousands of smart middle-class writers, journalists, and public intellectuals who have, until now, lived semi-charmed kinds of lives of the mind.

The problem with semi-charmed lives is they tend to be lived outside of scrutiny. The last thing this world needs is a bunch of people whose ideas are instantly acceptable and sacrosanct because they're printed in the Gray Lady. MeFi bears this point out just about every day. Also, this gap isn't filled by The New Yorker, New York Magazine, or anything else on your news stand?

3) And it will seriously damage the press’s ability to serve as a bulwark of democracy. Internet purists may maintain that the Web will throw up a new pro-am class of citizen journalists to fill the void, but for now, at least, there’s no online substitute for institutions that can marshal years of well-developed sourcing and reporting experience—not to mention the resources to, say, send journalists leapfrogging between Mumbai and
Islamabad to decode the complexities of the India-Pakistan conflict.

As far as I can tell, there's nothing inherent about paper that makes this possible. Mustering a multi-national force of reporters takes two things: capital and will. Capital will come to sites which are genuinely useful, which produce good content and can be relied on. Sites that aren't useful are not so lucky. That's how the cookie crumbles.

As for will, let's take a look. The steady decline of foreign bureaus as the first thing to go in a budget crunch. The baldfaced lies accepted and left unexamined by the mainstream press in the lead up to the Iraq War. The routine use of wire stories to fill small and medium-market papers, many owned by the Times Company. A reporting philosophy that says quoting politicians for or against a bill is balanced, non-partisan investigative reporting. Color me unimpressed.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:52 PM on January 6, 2009 [11 favorites]

Rupert Murdoch will save us.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:55 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Or rather than face abrupt extinction, NYT may follow the Tribune's example, and stagger forward awhile longer:

"Zell and other Tribune Co. officials stressed on Monday that the company's operations and customers should feel little impact from the filing. Bills and salaries will be paid, papers will be produced and delivered as usual and TV stations will continue to air."
posted by terranova at 10:14 PM on January 6, 2009

Perhaps some will feel nostalgia if the NYT goes under, but I doubt it will be an earth shattering life-changing moment for many.

And most of those will be former employees or members of the Sulzberger family.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:32 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My confidence in the NYT as an authoritative news source vanished during the build-up to Iraq, and since I've paid more attention, it has become clear that this ball-dropping was not an anomaly. Were they always that bad? Hard to say, I wasn't looking at it so critically in the years before.

But it's true, we need something more than blogs and pundits to keep us informed. And I don't think I can bear to hear the cheering that will rise from the right when the Gray Lady falls.
posted by Edgewise at 11:11 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

When the newspapers go out of business, we will be left with rumor an innuendo from blogs for news.

Most blogs get their news from traditional sources, mainly a well staffed and professional news gathering organization, the newspaper.

My step dad is on the front lines of this, a photojournalist competing with complete hacks. We won't notice the difference between his high quality images (and years and years of experience) and someone with a cell phone camera until he is no longer taking those photos. The same goes for the stories put out.

This is great for political leaders, who now have to worry even less about telling the truth to their constituents, who is going to fact check?
posted by dibblda at 11:14 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

The problem with semi-charmed lives is they tend to be lived outside of scrutiny.

Oh yes, they're the enemy. The closing of this institution (and many more to come--try state universities by the score, which far too many people presume are safe harbors) wouldn't mean America is going down the drain or anything, or that this could affect you. Oh heavens no.
posted by raysmj at 11:15 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I will say this, however: The NY Times should never have become the NY Times Company that it is today. Absentee ownership of newspapers--decried by former Times editor Turner Catledge in this book--is to blame for the industry's problems as much as the Internet. But the credit crunch and our nation's long-in-coming financial turmoil will continue to affect us all, whether we live "bohemian lifestyles of the mind" (doubt that, maybe quasi-bohemian at best) or not.
posted by raysmj at 11:23 PM on January 6, 2009

America is going down the drain or anything

I don't think Le Monde, Der Spiegel or the Times are much safer than the printed NYT.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:23 PM on January 6, 2009

That's not good news either!
posted by raysmj at 11:27 PM on January 6, 2009

The question isn't print vs. online. The question is whether or not upper management can learn how to make print viable again. Print can still actually be pretty profitable. Online has been moving, but it's slowing way down, and it doesn't pay the bills the way print does. The amount of online impressions you have to sell to equal the revenue from just one run of a quarter-page ad is absolutely tremendous. You've got to get the money to pay the journalists somewhere.

When the newspapers go out of business, we will be left with rumor an innuendo from blogs for news.

Pretty much. People would be amazed how much work goes into that story about where your tax dollars went on this project, or how that politician funneled county contracts to a contributor's company. A lot of these things are uncovered by journalists who have spent years and years building a network of sources and learning how to get information that no one is willing to provide voluntarily. That's not something you can replace by someone who just has an ax to grind against city hall.
posted by azpenguin at 11:32 PM on January 6, 2009 [9 favorites]

The writer of the linked article ends of a basically optimistic note: "But a disaster? In the long run, maybe not." My guess is that most of us here reading these MeFi threads are the kind of people who are perhaps also generally optimistic about whether or not 'journalism' will make a successful transition to the internet (eventually). Nobody can actually draw up a detailed business plan for that yet, but, 'you know', it must be out there somewhere. We'll figure it out.

But there is no law of nature that says that this must be so, that says that we will indeed find such a plan. It is quite possible that the combined effects of Craigslist and 'reporters-cum-bloggers' - none of which are going to go away - have made it impossible to put together such a business model ever again.

We may be moving into a world where there is no such thing as institutional investigative journalism. We had a fortunate situation for a number of years where our advertisements for used cars ended up sponsoring an entire class of 'watchdogs', who played a huge part in keeping our political and business leaders 'straight' (or at least as much as was possible). That's over now. What other possible source of revenue can we tap to provide us with the same service? And not just internationally, but nationally and regionally, and locally. I guess I have no imagination, because I sure can't think of one.

I think we're in a brave new world; if I were a politician, I don't think I'd be too upset about this, but for the rest of us ... ?
posted by woodblock100 at 12:13 AM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I read the Times, I sprawl out on a big sectional in a Chelsea loft with the paper every Sunday, the Magazine goes next to the toilet for week long enjoyment. The New York Times is integral with the fantasy and reality of my life, but I will admit, it's not very good. I mean, have you read a copy front to back? There's some pretty sorry shit getting printed on those grey pages these days. Check this out; pure crap, it was printed, on real paper, THAT article!
I will miss the Metro section, and I really hate the thought of having to read the Post on purpose.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 12:20 AM on January 7, 2009

What other possible source of revenue can we tap to provide us with the same service? And not just internationally, but nationally and regionally, and locally. I guess I have no imagination, because I sure can't think of one.

I'm not saying it's the ultimate solution, but you know, in Australia, the most respected news source is generally regarded to be the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) - a completely government-funded but independent organization.

In the UK, the situation with the BBC is similar.

And in Canada, the CBC.

The idea that quality journalism has to turn a profit, and be commercially viable, is overruled by these excellent public broadcasters.
posted by Jimbob at 12:25 AM on January 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

The idea that quality journalism has to turn a profit, and be commercially viable, is overruled by these excellent public broadcasters.

On the national level I can see how these organizations can indeed play an important part. I'm far less sure that they could do so internationally or locally. The other 'problem' with them is their mandate to be impartial, which frequently (usually?) results in reports that are a pathetic mix of 'report both sides' of the argument.

I would far rather have a media made up of Foxes and Grey Ladies. I'll sort out the biases and opinions for myself.
posted by woodblock100 at 12:30 AM on January 7, 2009

On the national level I can see how these organizations can indeed play an important part. I'm far less sure that they could do so internationally or locally.

I can confirm that the ABC is excellent on both the international and local levels (although their south-east-asian correspondent is currently sitting in a Singapore jail for being caught with meth...anyway...)

I would far rather have a media made up of Foxes and Grey Ladies. I'll sort out the biases and opinions for myself.

Well, each to their own. Personally, I feel opinion (especially from pundits who have no expertise or first-hand experience of the events they are commenting on) has almost no place in journalism, and that we should receive the facts, or as close to them as possible.
posted by Jimbob at 12:36 AM on January 7, 2009

The other 'problem' with them is their mandate to be impartial

The NYT reprinted Bush's press releases verbatim for several years, as a commercial entity. Public ownership would make them no less "impartial".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:37 AM on January 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

BBC ... ABC ... CBC

And I could have added ... Those government-funded media organizations are focussed on broadcast media. TV stations ... soundbite city! Even their radio channels aren't much better. I listen to the BBC radio here in Japan and although I love having them available, the idea that they could play an important 'investigative journalism' function is kind of laughable.

The news comes on, and the announcer tells us what a government spokesman said today. Then ... (wait for it, yes here it comes) ... we have a quote from the 'shadow minister' in question. All they are giving us are 'press releases' from the government and opposition.
posted by woodblock100 at 12:42 AM on January 7, 2009

the idea that they could play an important 'investigative journalism' function is kind of laughable.

Not in the least! Just in Australia, The 7.30 Report and Four Corners have broken a huge number of important stories. And I'm sure there are local equivalents in the UK and Canada - Panorama or Frontline or whatever.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 1:21 AM on January 7, 2009

I think I just heard Ann Coulter come.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:27 AM on January 7, 2009

Not in the least!

Well, I certainly don't have data on the table to argue the point, and in any case, was merely outlining a personal viewpoint/preference. Perhaps my views on the general 'spinelessness' of public media are shaped by the fact that 'my' broadcaster here is NHK ... ~
posted by woodblock100 at 1:44 AM on January 7, 2009

I think I just heard Ann Coulter come.

Oh, is that what the high pitched shrieking was? I thought it was the End Times. Carry on.
posted by crossoverman at 2:41 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

From the article (which I generally thought was pretty good):

"it’s because the public at large has been trained to undervalue journalists and journalism"

Well, after highly regarded "serious" journos like Judy Miller told us Saddam had tons and tons of WMD, and serious, hard-workin' beat reporters like Robert Novak and Tim Russert got directly involved in the White House orchestrated outing of a covert CIA agent, and respectable, "friend of the working man" types like Chris Matthews let us know that George W. Bush was a "hell of a guy" or some such back in 2003, it's pretty clear that the public wasn't trained to undervalue journalism as much that it realized that a J-school pedigree, having friends in all the right places, and going to the right cocktail parties didn't just fail to make you a better journalist, it actively made you worse. (I'll defer to two unwashed bloggers, Glenn Greenwald and digby, who are very sharp and very good about always coming back to this theme of "villager" culture. And yes, they're libs, but an honest Republican would have to admit that they have a point that isn't that different from what, say, Charles at Little Green Footballs and Michelle Malkin are talking about when they reference "gatekeepers" in the MSM.)

As for the notion that bloggers get all their info. from invisible, anonymous hard workin' beat reporters, I'd also disagree. Most bloggers respond to other bloggers, first and foremost. And while I do see a downside to actual press bureaus being put out of business, let's face the obvious -- this has been going on for decades already. Since the 1980's, at least, journalism became more about personalities than it did actual news. Lamenting the firing of Joe Q. J-school graduate, out there sniffing around the meat packing factory looking for rat droppings, is utter fantasy. To argue that nasty bloggers in their pajamas are going to RUIN HONEST TO GOODNESS JOURNALISM OH NOES!!! is myopic, to say the least. Print newspapers ruined themselves.

As for small town papers, I really do lament their passing. With low overheads and quality journalism, they had an important place in our democracy. Too bad they all got bought up by conglomerates back in the 80's and began running nothing but wire stories and "Parade."

Anecdotally, I had an internship at a mid-sized paper in Pennsylvania back in college in the 90's, around the time the internet was catching on but the idea of reading a paper on-line was totally new. I got to meet the editor, a nice guy with a real conscience about serving his public, but I remember him saying how people will always want to "hold a paper in their hands." Even then I realized smart people can be pretty delusional when it comes to certain topics.

In short: Newspapers and in particular their ownership have only themselves to blame, and fuck David Broder.
posted by bardic at 3:29 AM on January 7, 2009 [7 favorites]

Print newspapers ruined themselves.

It's true. Upper management, with both eyes fixed solely on stock prices, has had its head up its ass for years now, in a world where average profit margins of 20 - 30% (!) weren't enough:

In 2006, a "bad" year for newspapers, publicly traded companies sported an average profit margin in the 17-18% range. Granted, that is down from the 2000 numbers, which were 22% to 29%. Both are above average for most industries: about 8.3% over the past 25 years ago. For comparison, ExxonMobil, which is being hammered for record profits while prices at the gas pump skyrocket, sported only a 10% profit margin in 2005.

...Run smartly, newspaper companies can still make money if they don't have to keep voracious shareholders happy.

Seriously. The current system of absentee ownership in publicly traded chain companies is hardly the only way to run newspapers. It just might be the shittiest way, though, and there's no proof the death of that system will necessarily be the death of print.
posted by mediareport at 4:39 AM on January 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

the story here is the same story for practically every major american industry:

pursuit of short term profits leads to decreased investment in your core business leads to diminishing returns.

instead of investing online and in content people wanted, they kept profit margins high, engaged in mergers as stock speculation and sent the cash to the owners and wall street. but it's easier to talk about how "no one could have known" that online media would suck up classifieds revenue.
posted by geos at 5:27 AM on January 7, 2009 [6 favorites]

We may be moving into a world where there is no such thing as institutional investigative journalism.

We moved into that world in 2001, didn't we? Sometime around September?
posted by Joe Beese at 5:29 AM on January 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

As for the notion that bloggers get all their info. from invisible, anonymous hard workin' beat reporters, I'd also disagree. Most bloggers respond to other bloggers, first and foremost.

This is not a particularly good comeback to the argument that blogging remains a fundamentally parasitic medium! Trace those bloggers-commenting-on-bloggers back to the original source of their commenting and you'll get to mainstream media almost every time, though admittedly not always newspapers.

On the question of sprawling around your Chelsea apartment with the Sunday New York Times, meanwhile, I'm surprised how rarely the notion of premium print editions gets raised. By comparison with a latte from Starbucks or a packet of cigarettes or a paperback book, newspapers today are absurdly, incomprehensibly good value. There might be a serious potential market - much smaller, obviously - for a Sunday New York Times costing $20. Of course, this would still require the company to survive in the first place, so it doesn't address the crucial question of journalism's survival. But I see no reason why people who really care about reading on paper can't continue to do so, if they're willing to pay a cover price that more accurately reflects the insane amount of content they currently get for so little.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:33 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Blogs are Our Great and Glorious Future of (Unpaid) Citizen Journalism is as cliche as newspaper rants about blogs. Of course blogs continue to use newspapers as their top source material, unless we're talking pure punditry/girl talk/kitty/male-oriented porn blogs. Even the ones I see labeled as examples of citizen reporting where I am (New Orleans, where there's been every reason for citizen activism over the past few years) more typically feature "connect the dots" pieces via the use of newspaper articles than any completely original material. And their authors would admit as much.

The idea of a public newspapers sounds a bit daffy, considering that Congress went all crazy over giving any money to the Big 3 automakers. Free money with no strings attached is only given to banks, I suppose. And PBS and National Public Radio still depend on foundation monies, corporate grants, etc. I do think you'll eventually see an Internet only model for journalism come about, but it would be better for everyone to have a smoother transition. And, again, this credit crunch is going to hurt everyone badly, if it continues as it has, mowing down old institutions like the Times. Blogs are not going to be a replacement for them.
posted by raysmj at 5:50 AM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

posted by killdevil at 6:02 AM on January 7, 2009

On a purely selfish level, I'll be deeply saddened if "The Times" is no longer in print. I only read it on Sunday, and, even then, I only read the features sections, but it's a ritual that is so important to me that my wife and I call Sunday "New-York-Times Day." I actually look forward to it as I go to bed on Saturday night.

"New-York-Times Day" isn't just about the newspaper. It isn't even mostly about the newspaper. It's about sitting on the sofa in pajamas, drinking coffee and reading out quotes from the Book Review to wife while she reads me out quotes from the Magazine. It's not about the newspaper, but the paper is the centerpiece that holds Sunday together.

I'll adjust if it becomes digital only, but PLEASE can we hurry up and invent some comfortable ways to read digital print? I hate reading long articles on my laptop (probably because I'm "of a certain age.") Kindles and the like are the right direction, but the technology needs to improve and to get a lot cheaper. I need to know that I can roll over on the reader in bed or drop it as I carry it to the bathroom without being out $300.
posted by grumblebee at 6:33 AM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why the fuck does being a paid writer mean you're living a "semi-charmed life of the mind?" I don't remember the last time someone said that being an accountant meant you were living a "semi-charmed life of the calculator."
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:41 AM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was listening to the radio while doing the dishes over New Year's and hear (a Mpls-St. Paul local) commentator giving a 50/50 percentage to the idea that the Minneapolis (StarTribune) and St. Paul papers (Pioneer Press) will merge during 2009.

At the time I was flabbergasted, but upon reflection it kind of makes sense. The Strib has really, really been hurting and the PP has been thriving, at least a little. It wouldn't be the merger of two sinking ships either.

Of course, I don't know what I will do with my PP snootyness over the snotrag Strib, but I'll deal. If I was worth 82 billion dollars, I'd assemble a dream paper of Rosario, Grow, Klobuchar, Sicherman, Barrio (sp), Ojeda-Zapata, and The Loop. It would land on my step every day by 6 a.m. and all would be right with the world, no matter what happens.

posted by unixrat at 6:50 AM on January 7, 2009

I am not being snarky or sarcastic at all when I say that this is one of the most unsettling things I've read in months.
posted by danb

When I read the headline, I actually sucked in my breath and gasped out "fuck." I love the Times. I love the Sunday Times. I love the Sunday Times Magazine; we do the puzzle over Sunday brunch and quiz each other on how The Ethicist will respond. Which isn't really relevant, but it is part of our weekly routine.

The Raleigh News & Observer
, too, has been shrinking steadily. The Money section combined with the local news. The lifestyle section combined with classifieds. At least twice this past year there was an announcement that 10 pages were being cut-- but not the subscription price. My absolute favorite part of the paper, the letters to the editor, has been greatly reduced. Sure they are on-line, but letters on-line are not at all the same. They are rambling rather than succinct, un-punctuated and un-capitalized, thoughtlessly tossed off rather than labored over. In short, on-line letters to the ed are the same as all the other comments on-line. On the other hand, it seems like there are more advertisements than ever. I guess they just don't pay as well as they used to.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:00 AM on January 7, 2009

Portland Maine's only local paper, the Press-Herald, was bought and subsequently gutted and trashed by the Blethens. It's currently for sale, and shows every sign of not being bought by anyone until it has gone completely bankrupt. There's only one buyer interested at all, and they have little reason not to wait for the lowest possible creditor fire-sale price.

If it's the end of the (journalistic) world as we know it, I, at least, feel fine. For all our pretty words about the Free Press being enshrined in the first amendment, what did we actually do with our free presses? We entrusted them to entities whose first priority is to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. That goal is not just different from the goal of producing the best journalism possible, it is, I would say, actively hostile to it. The fox's goal is to make as many chicken dinners as possible for himself. Doesn't that mean he is the best choice for henhouse guardian, since, after all, we all want to maximize chickens? Not exactly.

In the past maybe half-century, we've pissed away a long tradition of privately-held newspapers whose goals actually aligned with their corporate structure. This is what we have to show for it. The sad thing is that blogs will not be the immediate replacement. The replacement for newspapers already exists, and is apparently so obvious no one has noticed it -- it's cable news networks. Unable to out-fluff and out-shout CNN, FNN, and MSNBC, newspapers will ultimately have been killed by them.

But people will still want to know what happened, and why. It may be only a fantasy, but I think that when the real newsgatherers are all gone, their lack will suddenly be very noticeable, as the jabbering TV heads find themselves with little to talk about. For all that blogs are scorned for basing most of their commentary on the newspapers, the same is very much true for cable news. And it seems to me that the people most likely to jump back into real journalism will come from a new media background. Think of the extra ad money sloshing around without the parasitic newspaper conglomerates feeding off it. We are in for changes, but I don't think the world is quite prepared to completely abandon journalism yet.
posted by rusty at 9:10 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

When we were in Southeast Asia last summer, all the places we stayed had pirated satellite. The first thing I noticed is that the talking heads on the TV news channels were all ugly. The second thing I noticed is that the news was actually interesting and worth listening to.

Journalism in the US is sick. Unfortunately, the NYTimes was, along with LATimes back before they hit their troubles, some of the best we had. Maybe it's time for make AlJazeera English my primary feed. Do they have an iphone app yet?
posted by arabelladragon at 9:31 AM on January 7, 2009

Given the quality of the Times reporting, especially on international affairs, I can't see that the death of the Times will that big of a loss. In recent years, the Times was little more that a mouthpiece for the administration, reciting talking points like they were marching orders. Hell, Fox News had more credibility.

Incompetence shouldn't get a free pass just because it's embodied in a newspaper. let it burn, say I.
posted by happyroach at 9:36 AM on January 7, 2009

I think a lot of us who get most of our news from blogs, radio, and TV forget that many of the stories we hear about originated in newspapers and magazines.

I quickly skimmed the 50 posts on the Metafilter front page, putting each into one of four categories: PR, web-only, print news, and broadcast news. I figure PR posts (stories put out by their subject) and web-only posts would make it into the zeitgeist even if journalism didn't exist. Print news posts seem to have originated in print news articles, even if the actual links on the front page go to blogs that describe these articles. (I included one story on a blog run by Wired magazine.) Finally, broadcast journalism posts are those that seem to come from radio or TV. There's clearly some fuzziness in the categories, but I tried to be impartial.

Out of 50 total posts, I counted 11 PR posts, 25 web-only posts, 12 print journalism posts, and 2 broadcast news posts. So as a rough estimate, 1/4 of Metafilter's content would be gone if print journalism ceased to exist.

That includes stories like a museum selling treasured pieces, two German kids eloping to Africa, an interview with Lynndie England, and an investigation of people making a killing on Obama commemorative coins. Oh, and this post itself.
posted by miyabo at 10:07 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Print journalism won't go away. Supply and demand, folks. As the most diseased papers and magazines die off, that opens more opportunity for the ones who are still alive, to sell to the subscribers who were left from the papers that bagged it.

The problem right now is oversupply. And that's something that tends to self-solve in capitalism, by having excess suppliers go out of business. Which is exactly what we're seeing. I don't see a future with no newspapers. What I see is a future in which most cities and towns don't have a local newspaper, and are served by national papers.

The future belongs to USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. Nostalgia notwithstanding, I don't think that's the worst fate imaginable.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:56 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Chocolate Pickle: In a lot of midsize and smaller cities, oversupply of newspapers is certainly not the problem. Unless you consider one to be one too many. There may be an oversupply of newsmedia in general, if you lump papers in against blogs and cable news and radio and local tv news. But it's hard to say why newspapers appear to be the biggest losers in that market, with all the rest going relatively strong. I would dispute that premise as well -- in Portland, we've got 1/2 hr of local radio news each weeknight on NPR (statewide local news, mind you), and the usual 1/2 hour of nothing much on network TV. There may be a blog or two about the city, although I can't say I've found them. It strains plausibility to say that those are such strong competing options that the citizens have no further use for local reporting.

I disagree that this is an inevitable capitalist shakeout of excess supply, and the all powerful Market will provide. My one local paper is about to collapse, and I've watched it happen. It's not because they were beaten by the competition that doesn't exist. It's because they were plundered and mismanaged to death by a conglomerate from the other side of the country, who couldn't give a rat's ass whether Portland ME had a good newspaper or not, as long as they got their money.

That story's happened all over the place. The NYT company has run my childhood local paper, the Boston Globe, into the ground. Countless small cities have seen Gannett or the NYT Co or the Tribune Co or the Wretched Blethens sweep in and snap up their formerly strong local newspapers and start the chopping.

So I think it is a result of capitalism, but it's a result of the deregulation of the media ownership market and the subsequent looting of local papers that a purely-capitalist media market makes pretty much mandatory. I hope I can be excused for not having a hell of a lot of faith in The Market, therefore, to fix it.
posted by rusty at 11:11 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's because they were plundered and mismanaged to death by a conglomerate from the other side of the country, who couldn't give a rat's ass whether Portland ME had a good newspaper or not, as long as they got their money.

Surely, a factor may be that the price you pay for a newspaper is actually a relatively minor source of income to the paper, compared to advertising revenue? All the good management in the world won't solve your problems in the face of the raw numbers.

I don't even consider putting classified ads in newspapers anymore (no-one would read them), nor do I read them myself (there are hardly any there anymore). Freecycle, eBay, Craigslist (although I've never used it myself) are having a serious, serious impact, because they're just so much better. The same goes for real estate. In the past 4 years, when I've been in the market for both a house to rent, and a house to buy, I never opened a newspaper once to look for one. Online searches were so much more useful, and I didn't have to go out and buy a newspaper each day to make use of them. Nor did I open a newspaper in recent years when I've been looking for jobs. Online employment sites are also a vast improvement on newspapers. Newspapers have a weather section. I don't read it, I go to the online weather service, where I can view real-time radar, draw graphs, and get instant storm warnings. And so it goes, ad infinitum.

When this profit stream is drying up, what else can they do but, as people have suggested above, "go premium", redefine their market substantially.
posted by Jimbob at 11:38 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

In a lot of midsize and smaller cities, oversupply of newspapers is certainly not the problem. Unless you consider one to be one too many.

In this day and age, with the creation of the electronic "global village", it's not written in stone that every city has to have its own newspaper. And it's looking increasingly as if that pattern is no longer economically viable.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:09 PM on January 7, 2009

Chocolate Pickle: Check out the stock chart for Gannett, owner of USA Today. It has been laying off people at newspapers nationwide, thinning its paper sizes and the like. In any case, does anybody read USA Today when not staying in a hotel or getting it for free at some convention, say?
posted by raysmj at 12:38 PM on January 7, 2009

Jimbob: The cover price is pretty much irrelevant, you're right. But people who buy the paper are counted in circulation numbers, and those are the holy grail. Lower circulation equals lower ad rates equals less money equals death spiral. The PPH entered this spiral when it got acquired and the new owners ditched a lot of its (relatively expensive) reporting and editing talent in favor of more fluff and wire reports, and also blew a ton of money on really asinine "new media" consultants and plans. Not too surprisingly, people largely stopped reading it. Why bother when it no longer offered the one thing that used to distinguish it -- good local news?

The loss of classifieds hurt, no doubt. The newspaper industry as whole bears a huge amount of blame for letting that golden goose slip away. But nevertheless, in a lot of places the local paper was and still is the one and only thing that's still reporting local news. If they had done that (and some did!) and had been allowed to continue doing that (and again, some were!) they would still be viable. And the parenthticals from the previous sentence are.

Chocolate Pickle: The global electronic village doesn't give a damn what's going on in Portland, Maine. Or a lot of other places where people live and news of local interest happens. It's not that expensive to produce a newspaper. It's only particularly difficult if your main interest is not to produce a newspaper and earn a living for the people doing it. That is, it may not be economically viable as a big business with shareholders and required continuous growth. It may never have been.

I still think it's a social necessity, and people will figure out saner ways (or return to perfectly good older ways) to get it done. In a sense, I welcome to coming collapses, because the papers collapsing are mostly doing so because they suck. I still think the demand is there, and it will be met when the decks are cleared a bit. I just hope we don't hop onto the same dumb cycle again.

Incidentally, if anyone cares, there's a great blog chronicling the ongoing fail that is the Portland Press Herald.
posted by rusty at 12:39 PM on January 7, 2009

I read lots of articles in the print edition that I would not on the website. There's something about flipping through the sections that is not replicated by clicking through.

However, I get the newspaper for free at a university through something called the New York Times Readership Program. If I were to subscribe, home delivery (on the west coast) would be nearly $700 per year. In other words, not gonna happen.

So I'm just another guy that treasures something and is unwilling to pay for it. Like everyone else in the post-Napster world.
posted by letitrain at 12:42 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

My confidence in the NYT as an authoritative news source vanished during the build-up to Iraq

Me too. They really undermined their credibility. Not just with Judy Miller, the entire editorial board.

These days I'm reading The Economist. I pay about $90 a year to have it delivered to my door once a week. There's some ads in it but it doesn't feel like an ad-supported business. They mostly do analysis, not original investigation, but it's still excellent journalism. Fingers crossed they're not about to go broke too.
posted by Nelson at 2:12 PM on January 7, 2009

RaySMJ, my point is that USA Today is well placed to move into the ecological niche that will be left behind by the widespread die-off of local newspapers. But if it doesn't turn out to be them, it'll be someone or something else.

It could have been the NYT itself, except that Pinch has already flown the NYT into the ground.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:44 PM on January 7, 2009

All you folks who are wringing-your-hands upset about these developments are all New York Times subscribers, of course, right?

Ultimately, the death of The New YorkTimes—or at least its print edition—would be a sentimental moment, and a severe blow to American journalism. But a disaster? In the long run, maybe not.

I concur. Journalism will survive and evolve. The NYT wasn't anything great or special anyway. The good reporters will find work elsewhere. Chocolate Pickle nailed it.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:02 PM on January 7, 2009

When the newspapers go out of business, we will be left with rumor an innuendo from blogs for news.

It makes me wonder why we read newspapers anyway. They are so inaccurate, and the columnists are generally gossip mongers who are more than not, just plain wrong. But that's okay, because their job is selling product, not reporting on news.

Working in government (but NOT the Bush administration) in communications, and then in an industry association, and then back in government again, I am constantly amazed at how *wrong* newspapers and the media in general gets it. I'm not sure if it's laziness or lack of resources or political slant or whatever, but the media only offers an opportunity to triangulate "reality" - you need two or three sources, plus some commentary (but we only tend to read columnists whom we agree with, right?) to figure out what's really going on.

Blogging and Twitter (and aggregating those sources) may indeed be the future of journalism on a local level. Global Voices Online does a great job. How was Twitter any worse a source on the Mumbai attacks than the conventional media?
posted by KokuRyu at 3:34 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

It may be only a fantasy, but I think that when the real newsgatherers are all gone, their lack will suddenly be very noticeable, as the jabbering TV heads find themselves with little to talk about.

Think about this statement a bit. How do you know that that isn't exactly what's been happening for the past ten or twenty years? Its harder to perceive the absence of something than its presence. If an extremely newsworthy event were happening right now in Guantanamo Bay, or Tibet, but no journalists or members of the public were around to witness it personally, how would you detect that journalists were missing a big story, any big story? How do you know that Vladimir Putin isn't chuckling right now at how blissfully unaware the outside world is of his greatest power play. People, MeFites more than most, love to castigate the media for its incompetence in reporting various stories they're aware of, such as the missing WMD, or Al Gore's non-claim to have invented the internet, but rarely consider that if the media as a whole truly is very incompetent, that's just as likely to be manifested in non-events, the absence of reporting about important issues, at least until well after the fact.

If professional, labor-intensive journalism dies, or is sharply reduced, we might not notice at all. The stories that the blogosphere attacks for having been poorly reported aren't the ones I worry about.
posted by gsteff at 4:17 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

In this day and age, with the creation of the electronic "global village", it's not written in stone that every city has to have its own newspaper.

Here is what I like to read in my local (Raleigh) paper:

Local murder and mayham and the on-going investigations.
Political tallies of how our congressional reps voted.
What local businesses are opening, relocating and closing.
Local restaurant reviews and recipes. Also the winning recipes from the State Fair.
The People's Pharmacy, the gardening columns, the information on house and garden tours.
Information on the local music scene and art galleries.
Getting Out column which is information about the parks and greenways (the greenways are always expanding and the paper publishes maps.)
Coupons and flyers from the local grocery stores.

I'm sure there are many other things that are I am forgetting. I rarely bother with the national stuff-- I get all that on-line, but I live here and this is the stuff of my daily life. Aside from the stories on crime, the local TV station doesn't cover any of this so if the Raleigh paper goes under, I'll be left getting my information from blogs and the free weekly.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:30 PM on January 7, 2009

Crazy analysis. Hardly anyone under 65 would buy a subscription to USA Today just to have any newspaper at all. Its ad sales were plunging over the summer, and a big reason for the decline of Gannett (which has to be the worst of the big daily chains--it produces gosh-awful crap).
posted by raysmj at 4:35 PM on January 7, 2009

The banner ad quality for canada.com newspaper sites has really declined in quality over the past two months. More often than not, most of the banner ads are really cheap-looking spots shilling credit checks. They look *really* cheap. Really
posted by KokuRyu at 5:04 PM on January 7, 2009

I haven't been buying the Sunday Times recently, but I still always thought I would be able to - like grumblebee and Secret Life, I did always think of it as a part of Sunday... it's true that at the moment I'm too busy with school stuff to have lazy pajama days like that (and I get distracted enough by online stuff and my endless piling up unread New Yorkers) but I'm very surprised by this...

I actually haven't read the print edition of the times in a while though. I used to always buy Tuesday (for the Science times) and SUnday, and occasionally other days (but they were once so definitively days and then they added a style section to every day or something, and i thought cut the science section ...) and there were various periods when I had a subscription (since it ends up costing about the same as a couple days a week, tho' when you live in a non-doorman apartment building, you also aren't guaranteed to actually find your paper more than a couple days a week...). I can blame it on being busy with other stuff, but if I didn't have the internet, I doubt I'd have been too busy to ever read the newspaper. Basically, it's not a necessity anymore - it's an enjoyable luxury for people like grumblebee, and a pleasant alternative to annoying slow connections or headache-inducing screens or whatever. But we don't even have to list the advantages of the internet...

It's too bad; I really do prefer print - I do think the screens hurt my eyes and aren't good for my brain (and as an epileptic, that is probably something I should be extra-careful about) - but as the description of a lazy Sunday ritual so aptly shows, print media's strength isn't any longer in putting all the information at your fingertips (at one time, paper was a much better method for that than previous ones - oral traditions, say, or stone tablets). We may enjoy paper more as an experience of receiving the information, and it may last longer than computer chips, though the info on computer chips can just be continually replicated, so that is probably solvable. (Still, we have books that are hundreds of years old - if we just left the internet alone for hundreds of years, I doubt we'd be able to salvage anything). But, the internet is immediate and full of details and further follow-ups and counter-claims and so on, so for utility, the internet wins, even if in aesthetic or other less direct and immediate ways, it has flaws. It will be sad if we cannot continue to have both... but like the pamphleteers of the 18th c can tell you, or even just the 'zinesters of the 80s and 90s, some forms of media do just end.

The future belongs to USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. Nostalgia notwithstanding, I don't think that's the worst fate imaginable.

USA TOday? DOes anyone read that? Especially in the internet age, I cannot imagine that being even vaguely useful, whereas a local paper could at least have the sort of small town details that might not make it onto a web page. But again, for utility - like someone said above, for classifieds, job searches, personal ads, etc - it's perfectly obvious the internet is hugely superior (and even seems to have taken the stigma out of personal ads - it's cute embarrassed now, not really reallly embarrassed). But if USA TOday makes it, that will not be because they are a better paper...

print media can't make it on utility at this point. What it has to offer as a separate outfit is primarily in the sensation of taking it in as opposed to the information itself, and secondly perhaps in its capacity to be read and decoded simply, and survive long periods of time (whereas archaeologists discovering the internet might not even realize they'd discovered a source of information, let alone what information it was). Problem was, newspapers were always a smallish market, and they made their money on classifieds, which the internet did eat up. And other ad revenue surely depended on subscription rates, which are no doubt falling with cable TV...
posted by mdn at 6:51 PM on January 7, 2009

« Older History Repeats and Hollywood Remakes   |   Junction Fetish Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments