"Jack, I've found you a new job!" said the email from Michael Vincent,
"your friend in success." I've never met Mr. Vincent, but he assures me
I can make $150,000 a year or more by working just an hour a day on my
computer at home.
I've been getting a lot of spam emails like this. They must know I'm a
I used to say I was in a declining industry, but I was declining faster
than it was. This is no longer true. The Rocky Mountain News published
its last edition Friday (Feb 27). The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and
the San Francisco Chronicle probably won't make it to April Fools Day.
The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis
Star-Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News
all are bankrupt. The New York Times avoided bankruptcy only by
receiving a cash infusion from Carlos Slim on terms so favorable to the
Mexican billionaire that New York Times publisher "Pinch" Sulzberger
must have conducted the negotiations bent over his desk, with his pants
around his ankles.
We have a technological problem, which we've compounded with a trust
problem, and remarkably bad business judgment.
The heyday of the newspaper business was the 1920s. If you wanted the
news first, you came to us. (Extra! Extra! Read all about it!) If you
wanted the news in depth, you came to us. If you wanted pictures, you
came to us.
But then along came radio, and we were no longer first. Then
television, which had pictures that moved. When the Web came along, we
assumed it was yet another technological blow, when in fact it had the
potential to reverse all the earlier blows. With the Web, we could post
the news including pictures that move just as fast as radio or
Since we could distribute worldwide instantaneously for virtually no
cost, we could have made a lot of money selling Web subscriptions for as
little as $5 a month. But people are now used to getting the fruits of
our labor for free. It'll be hard to unring that bell.
Newspapers are bleeding in substantial part because much of our most
profitable classified advertising has migrated to the Web. Our Web
sites could have been the Matchmaker.com for singles in our communities,
or the Cars.com for car buyers, but we missed that opportunity.
You'll miss us when we're gone, say journalists to Americans who are not
as alarmed as we at the prospect of our demise.
"News stories do not sprout up like Jack's beanstalk on the Internet,"
wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders in JWR last week. "To produce
news, you need professionals who understand the standards needed to
research, report and write on what happened. If newspapers die,
reliable information dries up...When you read content in a newspaper,
you consistently can rely on it."
If Ms. Saunders had glanced recently at the corrections column in the
New York Times, she never could have written that last sentence with a
straight face. Our technological problems are aggravated because
roughly half our potential circulation base believes (with ample
justification) that reporting the news has taken a back seat to slanting
Journalists look down their noses at bloggers. But former Special
Forces soldier Michael Yon (Michael Yon Online Magazine) and Bill Roggio
(Long War Journal) have been doing the reporting on Iraq and Afghanistan
the "mainstream" media ought to be doing, but aren't. It was bloggers,
not his MSM colleagues, who demonstrated Dan Rather was relying on
forgeries for his CBS documentary on President Bush's National Guard
Newspapers have no more future in the age of the iPhone than buggy whip
manufacturers did in the age of the Model T. But the demand for
accurate, timely information is greater than ever. If we get a little
more Web savvy okay, a lot more Web savvy and lose the attitude,
the adjectives and the "news analyses," it could be us "mainstream"
journalists who provide it. If we don't, others will fill the void, and
they won't miss us when we're gone.