Newspapers are dying. We see it all around us. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer no longer prints its paper, the 150-year old Rocky Mountain News is no more, both major Chicago dailies are in some form of bankruptcy and the list goes on. In the Internet world, newspaper publishers have not found a workable business model, and the future does not look promising.
I LOVE newspapers. I am a print guy. I do not read newspapers as a primary source of information. Given the nature of the beast, the "news" carried in the papers no longer fits that description. I read newspapers because it is what I do. I love the feel and smell of newsprint. I am surrounded by a sea of books at home, and I can access the information I need for the day instantaneously online, but my day gets off to a VERY bad start if I don't have my paper. Computer screens mean work to me, the printed page says life. I also enjoy the conversational interaction prompted by the paper, the "did you see this" exchanges with my wife [Editor's Note: That annoys the hell out of her, but that is a different story for a different time]. When I travel, I WANT to read the local paper. You learn about a place and its people through THEIR paper, not some homogenized piece of nothingness left outside your hotel door.
Newspapers have often responded to their new world by cutting corners. The paper itself becomes smaller, they rely more on canned stories, fluff pieces and bland wire service generalities. I cannot think of a better example of penny-wise and pound foolish. By reducing or eliminating the things I buy the paper for, I am inclined to continue buying your paper why?
I do not have a solution. If I did, I would be earning far more than I am currently. However, I was intrigued by a recent piece of legislation, S. 673, introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland. Like most bills introduced, it will probably die a slow death by committee, but his idea is fascinating. He calls for newspaper companies to be allowed to treat themselves as tax-exempt non-profit organizations, which could allow for subscription charges and advertising expenses to be deductible. Newspapers would be run by people who love newspapers rather than corporate conglomerates with an eye toward the bottom line.
The ultimate question, though, is even if we embrace what is probably a pipe dream of the honorable gentleman from Maryland, does a viable market remain (or can one be resurrected) for HIGH-QUALITY and LOCAL newspapers? I for one certainly hope so, because I would truly miss my very dear old friend.