“Willful ignorance” may win out

These two pieces on the future, or lack thereof, for newspapers are best read as a pair.

This change has been more like seeing oncoming glaciers ten miles off, and then deciding not to move.

By the turn of the century, anyone who didn’t understand that the business model for newspapers was a wasting asset was caught up in nothing other than willful ignorance, so secure in their faith in the permanence of their business that they assumed that those glaciers would politely swerve at the last minute, which minute is looking increasingly like now.

— Clay Shriky in Boing Boing

Newspapers were built on local advertising monopolies. The Internet deprived them of those monopolies. Less important than an individual’s ability to access the BBC’s news feed was his ability to access Craigslist’s classifieds. In the internet age, midsize newspapers are an inefficiency. …

More prescient managers might have made for better news products but not sufficient revenue models. Most of the commentary on dying newspapers has been about making their news product better. But the salable product of newspapers was not news. It was local advertising and classifieds. Classifieds are now free and online advertising is a weak revenue stream. Meanwhile, the Internet gives individuals have access to more news, not less. Much is lost amidst this, particularly in terms of local coverage. Which is why, aside from journalists losing their jobs, few are actually upset over the changes roiling the industry. Which is why, as Shirky presciently said in 1993, “there is nothing anyone can do about it.”

— Ezra Klein in The American Prospect

And as Stowe Boyd notes, the trend toward the Internet being the primary source of national and international news is accelerating, 40 percent in 2008 versus 24 percent in 2007, according to a Pew study. And for those under 30, 59 percent versus 34 percent in 2007 list the Internet as the primary source of national and international news.

Despite these glum assessments (or perhaps to spite them), newspapers are still investing in new presses and printing facilities. And while people like to beat up on the economic plight of newspapers, local market TV stations are in the same spot, shrinking audiences and shrinking ad revenues.

I have a suspicion that we’ll see glacial moving print newspapers — and local TV stations — for far longer than either Shirky or Klein think even through I agree with their analysis that news or information will gravitate toward the most efficient means of dissemination.

Newspapers and TV stations just won’t be like they used to be — or are now.

I also have enough “willful ignorance” to believe that we will find an Internet economic model for supporting locally focused journalism. But then, again, I’m looking forward, in a way, to 2009.

(via Derek Tutschulte)