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Sunday, March 27, 2005

Farewell to Newspapers and Hello Irony 

ABC News: Silicon Insider: Farewell to Newspapers

Aside from the pretentiousness and preciousness that litter this column, there are some interesting observations. But the conclusion is weak.

First little thought: our esteemed author seems to have discovered hyperlinking recently, along with blogs: "Then I saw the first links embedded in blogs. There was simply nothing in the physical world that could ever hope to match the ability to leap through cyberspace from story to story, file to file, with almost infinite extension."

Shocking! Welcome to the early 90s. I thought hyperlinking had been around since the first www html (hypertext markup language) protocols. Must have been dreaming.

Other grabs: Needless to say, I still read the news, much of it coming from the newspapers I used to religiously read. But I am not reading the "paper," either literally or figuratively, that the publishers want me to read. Throughout the day, I construct my own newspaper in cyberspace, a real-time assemblage of wire service stories, newspaper features, blogs, bulletin boards, columns, etc. I suspect most of you do, too.

In any other industry, a product that lost 1 percent of market share for two decades — only to then double or triple that rate of decline — would be declared dead. The manufacturer would discontinue it and rush out a replacement product more in line with the desires of the marketplace. So, let's finally come out and say: Newspapers are dead. They will never come back. By the end of this decade, the newspaper industry will suffer the same death rate — 90-plus percent — that every other industry experiences when run over by a technology revolution.


Better odds face those newspapers — like the Merc, the Wall Street Journal, the Times and USA Today — that have squarely faced their own obsolescence and have raced to build strong and lively Web sites (It's no coincidence that yesterday Knight-Ridder, owner of the Mercury News, announced that it had joined a consortium of newspapers to buy, a news search consortium — wisely deciding that if you can't beat the news aggregators you might as well join them). These papers appear to be hanging on to their print editions to buy time until they find an exit strategy.

But that plan has its own costs. For example, even the best of these newspaper sites are still surprisingly retrograde. For all of their blogs, online journals and cheeky attitudes, they are still depressingly static. Why? No doubt it's a legacy issue: when you've been in the business of producing words and still pictures for decades, it's hard to cross over into the new reality of links and mpegs. Thus, while some of the best writing on the Web can be found in newspaper sites, it is not always the best (or at least the most rewarding) reading.

Hmm. I think print editions will last as long as there's an audience for them. I think written-word media will do just fine, regardless. Equating and confusing written-word media with manufacturing and distribution technology is small thinking. Sure, publishers make this mistake all the time, but so-called pundits, who use written words in a classic newspaper column format for a broadcaster-created website simply miss their own irony, I think.

The family says it's pooltime. I'm taking my print edition of the Sunday Miami
Herald with me, because there's no wi-fi out there. You can read it here.


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