As a fortunate son born into a family broadcast business, I did what any good Gen-X media executive would do with the advent of the internet: I started a newspaper. Pretty cutting edge, no? Currently I’m working on a patent for a new, sleek horse-drawn carriage. Stay tuned. It should be big.
Being acknowledged as such a new-media pioneer has afforded me the opportunity to speak on a few panels lately with discussion topics such as “The Dying Newspaper Industry” and “How to Keep Your Newspaper Alive in a Depression.” Good times. Good times.
My own experiences and my colleagues on Long Island have taught me, however, that newspapers aren’t dying. In fact Long Islanders are consuming more news than ever—yes, including print. Long Islanders and all Americans can’t get enough news and information it seems. The difference is that they demand it constantly and in multiple forms. This has confounded the news gatherers who struggle to maintain the integrity of the written word and stressed the news gathering process given our voracious appetite for it.
This is a good news/ bad news scenario for news organizations whether they be community focused, national outlets, broadcasters or this alternative newsweekly. The good news is that our product is being consumed with greater frequency and interest. The bad news is that there are more ways of receiving information and they are mostly free. The real bad news isn’t increased competition from talking heads and bloggers or the commoditization of information by search engines. Rather, the information glut has diminished the perceived value of advertising dollars businesses are willing to commit.
The prospect of search in an Orwellian sense is that all information is and will be available to everyone immediately. While the portal to this information is narrowing to the point where we will all someday reside somewhere inside the googleplex, the sources of information have become increasingly fragmented. The present danger in the googleplex is the blogger being seen as an equal to the newspaper reporter who must report stories that are vetted through time-tested systems. The long-term danger (which is like dog years in the googleplex) is that traditional reporting that is right and trustworthy will not receive enough advertising support to exist for much longer.
With several daily newspapers on the brink and a few already beginning to fall, Eric Schmidt of Google has already peered into his crystal ball and is afraid of what he sees. He doesn’t want to be responsible for killing the journalism trade. Besides, as Tim Knight, Publisher of Newsday, astutely pointed out on a panel this week – if the newspaper are gone, what will we google? Imagine a giant information vacuum that consists of bloggers critiquing other blogs and talking heads on television covering their critiques while politicians succumb to viral conspiracy theories left unchecked.
In a “Gladwellian” sense (I hope that term make it on Wikipedia!) newspapers have always played the roles of both maven and connector. As mavens we generate the news stories that serve as connectors around the water cooler and dinner table. While still playing the role of maven, we are no longer the connectors. When society reaches a point where our children text message each other while in the same room and our Facebook updates take the place of a phone call, we have officially surrendered the connector role.
Therefore, newspapers must seemingly leave the connector role behind and continue the work of mavens. But it is exactly our roles as connectors that advertisers pay for. And there’s the rub.
The salvation of newspapers will be in the people and businesses that value the credibility of information and the quality of the people who are reading them. The smart business owner will realize that in the information age, newspapers are still one of the best places to advertise because we offer a wealth of original and creative information that still matters to the interested and engaged public. The businesses that will miss the boat, particularly during a recession, will believe the hype that no one is reading newspapers any longer. After all, if you’re reading these words and have made it all the way through this diatribe, you’re one of them. And I bet there are businesses out there that are wishing they knew how to find you. If only I could introduce you to them…