I love newspapers as much as the next guy—in fact, probably more than the next guy. Most people don’t regularly read a newspaper; I get two thrown on my driveway every morning and still get a secret thrill taking them out of their plastic bag and unfolding them to reveal the headlines. I regularly visit a variety of newspaper web sites, and follow many journalists online and on social media.
One of the things you learn in reading newspapers and following journalists—besides current events—is that the newspaper business is terrible, horrible, lousy, bad, and just no good. Circulation is down, readership is down, editorial staffs are down, and advertising revenue is down. Journalists and photographers are underpaid, underappreciated, and treated shabbily by their rapacious corporate bosses. Even the physical size of papers is shrinking—fewer pages are printed and those pages are actually smaller than they used to be. The travails of the newspaper industry are a constant refrain—in newspapers.
But here’s the thing, dear newspapers: enough already. I know you care deeply about how awful the business is. I care too, both because I love newspapers and a vibrant, robust media is vital to our democracy. The problem is, most people don’t care. All those people who don’t read newspapers anymore? They have their own problems, and don’t care about how badly you’re being treated or how wonderful things were before the Internet. News flash: nobody’s going to stop using the Internet.
The newspaper industry desperately needs a new narrative—one that can emphasize its role in democracy, its role in checking the abuse of political or corporate power, its commitment to bettering society.
What the industry does not need is its pathological obsession with an obsolete distribution system. I wish I knew what the new model should be. All I know is, while we still need news, we just don’t need paper.