The Death of Newspapers. Or Not.

Note that this is a multiple page post. If you are reading in some feed readers, you may not get the entirety of the article unless you come to the site itself.

The question posed over at Friendfeed asks, “Are blogs killing newspapers?”

The answer, quite simply, is no they are not.

I have talked about the newspaper industry quite a lot and part directions with many others in the new media space. In a world of absolute positions staked by nearly everyone, that paint issues in stark contrasts of black and white with no grey in between, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that if blogs are successful over newspapers in some area, then they must be killing the newspaper across the board.

In my old age of nearly 33, I’ve learned something in this life. That absolutes are generally far from absolute. The passion that is put forward by belief in something is enough to cause issue-oriented myopia, wherein it is impossible to consider other possible alternatives.

Thus is the case when the question is posed, “Are blogs killing newspapers?”

Let me pose both sides of the argument.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

10 thoughts on “The Death of Newspapers. Or Not.

  1. Great post, I agree. I think they are having a negative affect on newspapers that do not adapt, however – with these newspapers website popularity – they have an edge over the bloggers if they do a good job and keep up with trends!

  2. To say blogs are killing newspapers is giving far too much credit to blogs. It’s the Internet at large and “the economy” in general, if anything.

    Readership has been flat, at least at the company I work for (which represents a good chunk of all the newspapers sold in Canada). So, it’s not that people aren’t reading newspapers anymore. When you throw in our online properties we’re reaching more people than ever.

    Classified revenues used to be gravy. Ebay, Craigslist, Kijji, etc, have demolished that market. The decline in real estate and auto sales has been particularly hurtful as of late.

    Newsprint and ink costs have been going up. A lot.

    Advertising revenue has been going down. People just don’t want to advertise in the newspaper, either because they don’t want to, or the ROI isn’t there.

    Many larger newspapers are made up of acquisitions, the purchases of which were financed by a great deal of debt. When everything’s good, it’s easy to pay the interest. When things go bad, you’re screwed. We’re quite profitable until you take away the money we need to service our debt.

    I would doubt that blogs themselves are taking away readership. It’s rare to see a blog that reports “the news”, rather, they’re linking to the online version of a traditional news site and adding their two cents. (Maybe not so much in the political area and celebrity gossip, but feel free to prove me wrong). Our online properties are doing great, but when you’re talking about online revenue in the millions against declining revenue in the billions, it’s a bit like shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    Finally, it’s an old world business that is resistant to change. Many of the publishers and senior editors have been in the business since the “good old days” of lead plates. The signs have been around for ages, the powers-that-be just chose to ignore them.

    (If a disclaimer is necessary, I work for a national chain of newspapers that’s on the brink of bankruptcy (anyone need a web ops guy? ;) ). All of this information is public)

  3. An acquaintance–a professional photographer–shared some pro bono pictures he shot with the local newspaper, asking for attribution upon publication. If he asked me to do such on my blog, I’d oblige without question. The news editor merely approved the printing of “courtesy photo” without indicating the source. Suffice to say, the photographer was insulted.

    Until newspapers can look beyond their silos–which some, like the New York Times, Toronto Star, Guardian, etc. do well as many of their columnists do double duty as bloggers and frequently hyperlink out–the edge that Joel suggests in the above comment won’t occur.

    Personally, my take is the newspaper as a medium will be around another 20 years or so–until the senior citizen generation (there’s no generational “name” for the Baby Boomer parent) dies. Morbid, but all accounts I’ve read indicate this.

    Newspapers aren’t dying anytime soon, and blogs aren’t killing them. Those newspapers that act like blogs will gain sustainable life.

  4. Good article but I think you are missing an important point. Not everyone that gets the paper gets it for the commentary. Before I cancelled my subscription (LA Times), I read the paper for news and sports and never read an editorial. My neighbor only gets the Sunday paper, and then only for the coupons. I have noticed in my neighborhood that back in the day almost every home would get at least one paper and now I can count the deliveries on one hand. Everyone who reads blogs reads them for the commentary; not the sports, not the funnies and not the coupons. I read them for the balanced coverage and the light that is shined where everyone else tries to obfuscate.

  5. A few things…

    @Ari – Photo attribution at newspapers is largely made based on the relationship the paper has with the photographer. If he had a “pro bono” arrangement, the paper probably got permission to use the shot, however your friend may have neglected to specify that he be credited in print. This sucks, but it’s routine. I have taken photographs during press conferences and events that I am attending as a print reporter and allowed a friend who writes for a competing publication to use them on his blog. I am credited by name, but my affiliation is not given. I’m not insulted — it’s simply the nature of the business.

    Now, on to your post, Aaron.

    I think you raise good points and frame the debate well, but I think you’re wrong about newspapers needing to act like blogs. Instead, I have a suggestion: Why don’t we steer the debate in a different direction by ditching the terns “Blog,” and “New Media.”

    Why? To me, “Blog” just means something published in reverse-chron order using movable type or wordpress, and often conjures up cut-and-paste blockquotes with first person commentary, often unsourced. Often “blogs” are run by “citizen journalists” who ignore standards of accuracy and sourcing that are hallmarks of good journalism (as a practice, not necessarily a profession). Sometimes this is a point of pride for those who write on such sites, even used as an excuse to justify publishing inaccurate stories, hyperbole or blatant linkbait. Many “traditional” journalists cite these examples as reasons that “blogs” shouldn’t be trusted. And “New Media” is just as often used as a code word/excuse for amateurism, even when the content author is paid and widely viewed. Somehow, “New Media” is supposed to be different — immune to the standards that govern the practice of journalism.

    This must stop.

    First, we must all acknowledge that journalism is a process — not a profession. It doesn’t matter whether you are in print or on WordPress, on TV or Qik, if you are a journalist, you should source your stories, verify your facts, and tell the truth. You should be objective, preferably, but even if you choose to report with a slant, you should be honest about it. And again, your obligation is to the truth. How you publish your content doesn’t matter — what matters is how you go about producing it.

    The truth is, a majority of today’s “blogs” are really like a very vibrant op-ed page at the back of a massive newspaper (the wire services, etc). Lots of opinion and commentary. Some, especially in the political and tech spaces (HuffPost, Talking Points Memo, All Things D, GigaOm, etc) break news regularly, and do it well. Some have established themselves as destinations and gained reputations as gatekeepers (TechCrunch, Mashable). But most wouldn’t exist without the thousands of reporters gathering facts snd reporting news that they, in turn, comment on.

    Newspapers are hurting financially because they made the mistake of giving away their product — news. Only the Wall Street Journal and a few others didn’t — and they’re doing fine. Management needs to find a business model that works, but in the mean time, newspapers should continue to act like newspapers. Journalists should act like journalists.

    Adapting to the capabilities of new technology means that new skill sets will become part of the practice of journalism. This doesn’t — nor should it — require any compromise in the standards and practices of the craft. Simply put, there is no “Old Media” and “New Media,” there’s just good and bad media.

    Here’s an idea: Why don’t we, the online “early adopter” community, reward the best in journalism that incorporates new technology with a set of awards.Think “Pulitzer 2.0.” Nominations can come from anywhere, and voting should be open to say, members of groups like the Society of Professional Journalists, Media Bloggers Association, etc. I can’t think of more groups, but you get the idea. Awards should go for photography, video, writing, and combinations therein.

    The business model will eventually fix itself. But journalism people must embrace the “big tent” of low barriers to entry as well as the amazing potential for innovative reporting that new technology and the internet provide for. And online/technology people need to embrace journalism as a practice to be respected, not as an artificial “elitist” construct.

    Most importantly, both groups need to find a way to recognize that together, they can do amazing things, and when those amazing things happen, find a way to celebrate them.

  6. I have to agree with Sean to a certain extent. My opinion is this, if there were no blogs – the Newspapers would still be the main source of information online and through the paper, so when you think about the fact that a lot of people get their information from major blogs like the Huffington Post, the fact that the Huffington Post is collecting advertising checks, that money is being removed from companies like The New York Times and others because time is being spent elsewhere.

    Also, please are becoming more and more interested in reading information online, instead of reading through a newspaper that changes their couch color from tan to black. Then, I have to also say that newspaper companies do have the opportunity to really do a great job in the search engines and online with their name to back them, so this can also be a great opportunity in bad times. When things get tough, the innovative succeed.

  7. I don’t think blogs are killing newspapers. Blogs are mostly opinion. I think what is killing newspapers is the fact that so many news organizations (including newspapers) have news websites for free. I think that if they started charging for the news websites (require a subscription) then I think that newspapers would have a bigger business.

    Besides, I need newspapers for a variety of things – they are an essential housecleaning aid to me!

  8. great blog … eneral opinion pertaining to blogs ….they actually help related newsfeeds……………. I read blogs more than I do CNN or MSN.com because blogs are unique not only for affiliate marketing and marketing your own products but for writing topics and leaving comments about specific topics related to your niche

  9. I don’t think so that blogs can replace our good old newspapers. Blogs are just additional information, more of the point of view or reviews of different people. Reliability wise, newspapers are far more reliable than blogs.

  10. I sure hope that they are NOT killing newspapers! My younger brother is going to college to study journalism; he wants to become a newspaper reporter! It’s a tough market to break into, but he has real talent and I hope it works out for him. It would be sad if newspapers die off!

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