Newspapers Still Ain’t Gettin’ It

Friend and comics artist extraordinaire Coleen Doran sent me a link to a page of media news, and it caused me to realize that I haven’t railed lately about the stupidity inherent in the bloated and Jurassic newspaper industry.

This post, I hope, will remedy that situation.

Cartoon © Milt Priggee

That attitude pretty much sums up the general consensus in newspaper boardrooms across the country. Newspapers don’t want to evolve — instead they just want to make a few superficial and cosmetic changes — start charging higher prices, start charging for portions of the paper that used to be included with the paper (the tv section in the Times-Dispatch, for example) — and sit back and proclaim that they’ve changed with the times.

Not hardly. The times have already changed, the newspapers missed all the signs, and now the asteroid of evolution slamming hard into their tiny, insular planet with an unimaginable economic force.

The metro daily will not survive.

Here’s the link Colleen sent me, but the important points I’d like to mention are:

Swedish-based Metro International is selling off its network of US free papers, while keeping on operations in other countries:

Metro Int’s finance officer Anders Kronborg said the sale of the loss-making US operations was part of the company’s strategy to get through the economic and financial crisis.

This also includes the closure of Metro’s Spanish operations, announced in January, and savings made from relocating the company’s head office from London to Stockholm.

“I don’t see any growth in the market this year or in 2010,” Kronborg said. Meanwhile, Metro Int is focusing on Latin America, Asia and Russia, where the prospects for the advertising market are better than in the US and Europe.

So, they see no newspaper growth in the US until 2011.

Damn. That’s actually optimistic. I don’t expect holistic newspaper market growth until 2015, at least.

Then there’s William Randolph Hearst wannabe Rupert Murdoch:

remember how News Corp will make readers pay “handsomely” for online content? So what’s the plan? MICRO-PAYMENTS.

News Corp is planning to introduce “micro payments” for individual articles and premium subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal’s website, WSJ Managing Editor Robert Thomson said on Sunday.

“It’s a payments system — once we have your details we will be able to charge you according to what you read, in particular, a high price for specialist material,” Thomson said in an e-mailed response to Reuters questions.

Earlier the Financial Times said the move would be a milestone in the news industry’s search for better business models for online outlets and quoted Thomson as saying the micro payments service would launch this autumn.

Micropayments may actually work for the Financial Times and the WSJ, because they’re niche markets and the ones who read them — professionals — have the disposable cash — ie, the office will pay for it. But it’s been proven that micropayments won’t work for metro-daily newspapers online, nor will charging for subscriptions. (Take a look through some of my past posts about papers if you don’t believe me.)

Regular people will refuse to pay — and rightly so.

And while these masturbatory and pointless exercises are being frothed over in boardrooms, Sen. John Kerry has been hosting hearings in D.C. all about saving newspapers — although he has no idea how to save them, he knows trouble when he sees it:

Kerry said steps must be taken so that news media can stay diverse and independent, but he wasn’t sure what role government should play in those steps.

“As a means of conveying news in a timely way, paper and ink are less in vogue, eclipsed by the power, efficiency and technological elegance of the Internet,” Kerry said as he opened the hearing. “But just looking at the erosion of newspapers is not the full picture; it’s just one casualty of a completely shifting and churning information landscape.”

An evolving landscape:

“High-end journalism is dying in America and unless a new economic model is achieved, it will not be reborn on the Web or anywhere else,” [David] Simon said.

Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of The Huffington Post, a Web site of opinion and news, said that despite all the hand-wringing about the decline of the newspaper industry, these are good times for news consumers.

Huffington said the future of journalism is not dependent on the future of newspapers.

“No, the future is to be found elsewhere,” she said. “It is a linked economy. It is search engines. It is online advertising. It is citizen journalism and foundation-supported investigative funds. That’s where the future is.”

Sen. Kerry’s hometown newspaper, the Boston Globe, is owned by the New York Times Co. Both metro dailies have been going through massive problems, which were Kerry’s primary reasons for initiating the newspaper hearings. Now, after an infusion of cash from a Mexican investor, there’s breaking news out of Los Angeles: David Geffen wants a major stake in the NYT.

All I can make out of all of this is that chaos is rampant; change is not coming — it’s already here; and smart people will move the newspaper industry forward, making necessary changes, while the dinosaurs in the upper floors of most of the other metro dailies will just blink a lot in uncomprehending anger as their little worlds are torn apart by forces others have seen on the horizon for years.

Hey — can I borrow 50 cents for the TV section? Never mind — the listings are free on my tv . . . and on the Internet . . . and on my cell phone . . .

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