I’ll take it a step further… selling news is dead.
There. I said it. Having worked for over a decade in the newspaper industry, I mean it. The fact is that newspapers don’t sell news anymore in as much as they sell advertising. The news has been secondary to newspaper sales for quite some time. Newspapers went color to sell advertising. Newspapers automated pagination systems to sell advertising. Newspapers built new newspaper plants for better quality advertising. Newspapers now sell direct mail, magazines, custom publications… not because they sell news but because it increases advertising revenue.
Many journalists will be angered by my words. I’m truly sorry because I have great respect for journalists. Walk into any news room, though, and you’ll see budgets cut, editors working short-handed, newspapers filling gaps with AP content. Publishers are publishing ads, not news. News is the filler in between ads because ads bring in money.
Many circulation strategies at newspaper actually position the ads more than the news… “Buy the Sunday Newspaper and you’ll receive over $100 in Coupons.” I can’t imagine how that makes a journalist feel… being misplaced by a 25 cent coupon for toilet paper.
I really don’t think this is much different than the evolution of other industries, though. Imagine how skilled a machinist had to be to pull out micrometer sets and build automotive engines. Those machinists were artists, learning their trade over many years, attending trade schools, learning advanced metallurgy, mathematics, and heavy machinery operation. Guess what? They have been replaced, too. CNC Mills and robotics have replaced skilled technicians. One can now design on a computer and instantly output their parts with no human intervention.
Does that mean that Machinists aren’t respected? Of course not. They’ve just simply been replaced. Journalists are being replaced, too. I know, I know… journalists are responsible, educated, they verify sources, they are responsible for their words. These are all true but economics is what ultimately wins. Watch the evening news or read a newspaper and I guarantee you’ll see at least one reference to a blog, an uploaded video, or a web site. The news is no longer being discovered and disseminated by journalists, it’s being discovered by me and you and disseminated through the Internet.
What’s really happened here is that the consumers’ need for buying news has gone away. Journalists and newspapers were the medium between society and the news. There were no other choices. Now the choices are infinite and cheap. Has quality wained? Perhaps. It’s a lot like comparing Wikipedia to Encyclopedia Brittanica. Wikipedia has exponentially more information and doesn’t cost a penny. Brittanica has a fraction of the articles but better quality. When was the last time you bought an encyclopedia? That’s your answer.
The truth is that I can write about Google’s new Blogbar. The post may have spelling and grammatical errors, may lack references, may not be as entertaining as it would be on the Times Technology page – but it reached thousands of readers who honestly didn’t care about those things. They appreciated that I wrote about it and are now using that content to improve their sites. It didn’t take a journalist to break the story.
The Internet is the new medium that is replacing news on papers and journalists. It’s somewhat sad, it’s a fantastic trade that is going to disappear. There will still be journalists, just not as many. There will still be newspapers, just not as many. Let’s face it, though. Newspapers will continue to find other means of selling advertising. It may not be ink on dead trees, but they’ll find a way.