UPDATED: Is News Dying Along with the Newspapers?

The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk made an announcement today:

The Virginian-Pilot, battling the recession, will lay off 30 more workers and suspend the print version of Port Folio Weekly, its 26-year-old free arts and entertainment weekly.

Port Folio’s last print edition will come out next week, said Maurice Jones, The Pilot’s president and publisher. Its Web site, http://www.portfolioweekly.com, will remain, and The Pilot will consider reopening the weekly paper when the economy improves, Jones said.

The Pilot also will close Mix, a free multicultural monthly that opened in 2007. The March issue will be Mix’s last.

Both publications were losing money, Jones said.

Around lunch time yesterday the powers that be at Media General, aka the Richmond Times-Dispatch, aka timesdispatch.com, Brick Weekly and Centro de Richmond, let their employees know they were each getting ten more vacation days this year. Unpaid, of course.

This is how the MG bowties are trying to staunch a wound. Newspapers are in some deep shit right now, and it seems like everybody BUT the bowties in charge want to face up to it.

You can’t cure a disease with mere band-aids.

Here. Read this salon.com editorial before I go on. Salon.com writers are usually pretty bright, and this guy is no exception. Go on, read it; I’ll wait right here.

[…sound of tv remote being clicked rapidly through 547 worthless Comcast channels…]

Hey, welcome back. Let me mute High School Musical 13 . . .

Okay. For what’s it’s worth, here’s my take:

Gary Kamiya may be right about the future of journalism. He’s right about mostly everything he says in this piece, actually. The paradigms of the news industry are in total upheaval, and everyone with a vested interest in newspapers, journalism and communications is scared shitless that the bottom is going to fall out.

Now get over it. And let’s figure out what’s next.

The bottom already is falling out, and now it’s time to start thinking differently, instead of the old ways of thinking.

But this is where the Salon.com writer is wrong. One very old way of thinking that Kamiya still holds precious: “The Internet gives readers what they want; newspapers give them what they need.”

That is a dinosaur talking.

Since the decline of newspapers started in the 1990s, the fossils behind the newsdesks have not yet figured out why circulation is declining, why they can’t do anything to increase it; so they raise the price, raise the advertising rates, lay off a few people, redesign the paper to cut pages, thereby costs . . .

And nothing works. The situation just keeps getting worse. It’s circular reasoning that borders on insanity.

The problem starts with the concept that The newspaper is needed.

It isn’t. It’s a groundbreaking communication vehicle . . . for the 1700s. Ben Franklin is long dead, and so are the days of moveable type. Cell phone, TV, radio, computers: we have virtually instantaneous sources for news, including this blog. Hey, look: scroll down a few entries, to February 15. See that post about the guy beheading his wife?

Know when I saw the story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch?
Yesterday, the 18th. Three days after I wrote about it.

Does that mean a blogger broke the story in Richmond?

If the newspaper is to survive — and I think they can — they have to evolve. We are living in a world of digital information and speed-of-fiber-optics delivery. The newspaper has become as functional as the Pony Express, and it is perceived as unwanted, too expensive, a burden, boring, black and white, old-fashioned, too traditional, and Jurassic. Slow, like a brontosaurus.

Now is not the time for band-aids. It is too late to try and fix things and return to the status quo. It’s time for newspapers to evolve. It’s time to give readers what they want.

This was a lesson newspapers understood in the 1930s to 1970s. Back then, papers wanted people to read the classified sections. To entice readers, they anchored the classifieds with single-panel cartoons. They gave readers what they liked and enjoyed, and it also served the purposes of the business.

What are newspapers today giving us that we really want? And, let me ask all you directors and managers at America’s metropolitan newspapers: Open up your paper, right now. Go page by page and ask yourself if readers really want the Middle East War stories, or do you still think “that’s what they NEED;” if today’s readers really want Mary Worth or Peanuts reruns; if readers really want “Today’s Prayer” and a bunch of made-up horoscopes; if they really want the column on playing bridge. Stocks are much more important, but you took out that daily listing. Ask yourselves: IF READERS REALLY WANT ALL THE STUFF THAT MAKES UP THE TRADITIONAL NEWSPAPER, WHY AREN’T THEY BUYING IT?

It’s a new century, believe it or not, and the days of Hearst and Woodstein are over. Traditional is not only long gone; but tradition is killing journalism. Ask, instead, what types of publications are being bought today, right now, on the newsstands, that contain news. Look on the Internet and find the real sources of news — the sources that people are going to.

You will discover, I believe, that a valid business model is NOT to give people what YOU THINK they need, but to give them what they want.

The news is most definitely needed. The printed form, and the traditional way of choosing what to publish, is most definitely not.

* * *

And that, my friends and gentle readers, is the end of Part I. Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel, for Part II: How a Smart-Ass with 14 years Experience in Newspapers Thinks Newspapers Have to Evolve . . . and Survive.

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