Newspapers: Fish wrapper or origami

Dave Morgan says he’s not going to write about newspapers anymore because he  doesn’t see them as “very relevant to the future and things digital.” Morgan has a history of being prescient about the industry and so his it’s-nearly-over theme shows just how dire the situation is. In his last Online Spin column, he writes:

…     the notion that the purity of newspaper journalism is the cornerstone upon which today’s great metropolitan newspapers were built is revisionist history. Most of today’s great newspapers were built through achieving dominant distribution in their markets, not through delivering better journalism. Most U.S. cities used to have two or more competitive newspapers. The eventual winner was almost always the one that won on the battle on distribution or advertising, almost never on journalism. Great journalism came later.

Newspapers obviously don’t on the Internet have the monopoly advantage of local print advertising and distribution that they won in print. But Kip Cassino from Borrell Associates, responding to Morgan in the comments, says newspapers are winning the local interactive advertising battle: 

Newspapers were into this game early, and by the early 21st century controlled about 40 percent of locally generated, locally directed online ad spending. This share has deteriorated , mostly due to newspapers’ continued reliance on upsell of classified verticals and competition from other local players (broadcast TV, for the most part). Even so, one of every four local interactive ad dollars spent goes to newspapers right now.

I think these two bright industry observers would agree that a frenetic remaking of newspaper culture and economic models are required. Morgan sees it as unlikely newspapers will be able to unroll their newspaper print model fast enough to make the change; Cassino sees signs that they will be able to make an origami-like reshaping of their businesses.

It’s up to the newspapers themselves to choose their fates. Some die. Some survive. Some may make a boat.