Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fifth stage of grief for newspapers

Newspapers are scared shitless. The under-30 crowd never did subscribe to newspapers, or even to the underlying concept of large scale newsgathering and publishing. Their elders are now being persuaded that paper is an inefficient, expensive, and ecologically destructive medium for the dissemination of news, given the availability of the internet.

Craigslist and eBay have taken over the classifieds; dating websites the personals; online job boards the recruitment ads; Autotrader, AutoNet, and AutoExpert the car ads; and various multiple listing systems allow buyers to browse the real estate offerings. Those are some of the reasons your newspaper is looking anorexic these days, and is rapidly becoming just a wrapper for flyers promoting this week's sales at the local shops.

Meanwhile, newspapers have gone through denial, anger, bargaining and depression, and are now arriving at the fifth stage of grief --- acceptance that their business model is doomed. Some have gone bankrupt, and many others are on the brink.

Now outsourcing, a word that send chills through the toughest city desk editor, has come to the very newsrooms that reported its devastation of a multitude of other industries.

Canadian Press and the Pagemasters subsidiary of the Australian Associated Press are teaming up to offer an outsourcing service to embattled North American newspapers. Pagemasters already produces more than 10,000 pages a month for 35 clients in Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.

Obviously a solution designed to appeal to the desperate, it will be yet another skidding step down the slippery slope toward boring pablum centrally produced by faceless, nameless hacks with no connection to our communities.

The grand traditions of newpapering, and its central role in community building, appear doomed. We are nearing the end of the long decline. To be sure, some yet-undefined delivery system for journalism will arise from the ashes, but there will be more blood on the newsroom floor in the short run.

My prediction: The solution will come from outside the news business, in the same way that Apple revolutionized the music business with its iPod and iTunes. Smart journalists are building an online following with Twitter and blogs, getting positioned for whatever comes next.

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