We just had a major newspaper announcement last week, and it looks like the Ann Arbor News is the latest victim. It sounds like the economy coupled with the new ways in which readers consume news are combining to really put the hurt on newspapers. The word is that the paper “will be replaced by a Web-focused community news operation.” Sounds kind of like that 150 citizen blogger approach we heard from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
It seems that in casting about for a way to survive, these organizations are really struggling to find models that work. According to the news story, Ann Arbor folks are saying that “the new free Web site won’t simply be the old newspaper delivered in a new format.” I can understand their need to try new things, but a community information portal simply isn’t the same thing as a newspaper, and that leads me to wonder who will provide balanced, accurate, insightful news – not just in Ann Arbor, but in all markets affected by changes like this.
My next question is about how we will be able to preserve the local history captured in these new community blog-o-portals. Libraries understand what it means to preserve newspapers in various formats: paper, microfilm, digital, etc. The Internet Archive knows what it means to preserve websites. But is there a natural fit here? Assuming that these new electronic news outlets contain content that should be preserved, can The Internet Archive capture these newspapers on a daily basis? If it can, perhaps that will be enough for casual users and serious researchers. But if it can’t?
It was announced yesterday that today’s edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will be the final print version of this 146-year-old paper. One can’t help reading the story without hearing the “Print is dead” cries echoing in one’s ears. Amidst all the talk about new business models and transitioning to a new online format, I can’t help thinking that “20 news gatherers and Web producers,” “20 newly hired advertising sales staff,” and “150 citizen bloggers” will never be able to cover the news like an experienced news staff.
We know that the Kindle can deliver content from major U.S. newspapers. Is the SPI “major” enough to merit some Kindle attention? Even if does, you still won’t be able to read it on the plane during takeoff and landing. And therein lies part of my concern with the whole “print is dead” movement. Now don’t get me wrong – I like electronic books. I’ve been through many, and I have about 50 on my Palm Treo now. But there are some places/times where/when my device is not allowed. Beyond that, traditional print books and newspapers never need to be recharged, they never need a network connection, and they never have to be migrated to a new hardware/software platform. I can easily loan my print book to a friend, but I’m certainly not going to loan them my Treo!
I hope that the various facets of the publishing industry can find a comfortable balance before the pendulum swings too far.
(For the record, I first read this story on my Palm Treo when it was delivered through Pocket Express. I read follow-up material on various web sites.)
Seattle P-I to publish last edition Tuesday
Seattle Post-Intelligencer prints final edition in online transition
First big US newspaper goes web only