Why Can’t Newspapers Play to Their Advantages?

Google Dvorak and newspapers, and look at the top three results:

  • Newspaper Publishers Are Idiots
  • How The Newspaper Business Killed Itself, and
  • Newspaper Death Watch.

It doesn’t make for pleasant reading for anyone interested in print media. But, as a former newspaper reporter myself, I have to admit that I stopped buying my last newspaper (on Sundays) several months ago and gave up buying daily newspapers a long longer before that.

photo of newspaper displayAs Dvorak points out, newspaper publishers are suffering from self-inflicted wounds. Badgered by bean counters and keeping an eye on quarterly results only, newspapers started cutting costs in the 70s by laying off reporters who produced original content and replacing them with syndicated news from the Associated Press, the New York Times, Reuters and other sources.

In San Fransisco, “The papers got so dependent on syndicates that many local stories were covered by outside sources,” Dvorak said. But the internet killed that model when it became apparent to readers that the same story was available for free on the internet. As a result, any attempts to charge for content were doomed to fail — unless every single publisher agreed to withdraw all free content.

In a tiny post on the Harvard Business Review blog site, Umair Haque (@umairh) agreed:

“The solution to newspapers’ woes is simple: make news that people and communities actually value — and once you can do that, charge them for it. Better yet, charge advertisers.”

Ireland is a smaller country and circumstances are a little different. International news comes in over British wire servisuper-computer-nerdces (and it shows). Meanwhile, domestic news is based on a herd mentality. Good luck finding a genuinely independent voice that hasn’t been marginalized.

Based in mind, if not in location, entirely in Dublin 4, the Irish “national” media is depressing as all hell in its simplicity, groupthink and intellectual laziness. Thank God for the internet because, even amongst all the idiots and crazies,  people at least post links that allow you to investigate alternative viewpoints.

It is against this background of self-inflicted business and self-inflicted journalistic stupidity that I listened with interest to Aileen O’Toole’s talk at IxDA several months ago. Founder of the Sunday Business Post (the last paper I stopped buying), and now CEO of Amas Internet (@AMASinternet), O’Toole’s talk was called, Print can survive the digital onslaught.

The talk is only five minutes long and can be seen below in its original form. She raises a number of points that show where print can still be relevant. The Obama inauguration and Sept. 11 editions of many publications sold out in record time. And O’Toole said that Amas gets very different reactions to its research distributed electronially and by print.

Image of paper courtesy of Mike @ NW Lens on Flickr.

3 thoughts on “Why Can’t Newspapers Play to Their Advantages?

  1. Great post, John. I definitely agree with you that news sources here in Ireland could be doing more.
    I loved Aileen’s talk at Defuse last year, it was refreshing to watch it again as there are some very solid ideas there.

    Defuse 2011 is in just a few weeks, too – I am guessing there will again be similarly interesting and inspiring talks!

  2. Pingback: John P. Muldoon » The Future of News: Dead Papers, Living Journalism

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