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Are we obligated to support failing industries? (like, oh, newspapers)

I start pondering this dilemma a while back when I mentioned on Twitter that I was canceling our newspaper subscription. So that you aren’t left wondering, we chose to do this for several reasons.

  • We never managed to actually read the newspaper articles.
  • We can get our news online instead of in print.
  • We didn’t need the sale ads…we don’t shop a lot, and sale ads are available online anyways.
  • I don’t use that many coupons, and even those are available online from places like and SmartSource. (SmartSource is, in fact, one of the publishers of the coupon inserts that come in the newspapers! I am not affiliated in any way with them, though.)

Given all that, a newspaper subscription seemed like a waste of money and resources (paper for printing, gas for delivery, not to mention the production of those plastic bags the paper comes in!), and we felt that it would be wise to cancel our subscription.

Anyways, one of my Twitter followers was a little horrified and wondered why I wasn’t putting more money into supporting the newspaper industry.

I do know that the print industry has fallen on hard times, but I haven’t really felt compelled to do my part to keep it afloat. I understand that journalism is really important to maintain, but I’m not sure that newspapers as a form need to be around in order for journalism to flourish (though I could certainly be wrong about that!).

The thing is, I’m just not sure that it’s possible for print journalism to survive in our culture, at least in the form of newspapers, and I don’t think there’s much that will save it. It’s the internet age, and the odds of people continuing to purchase (and read!) daily newspapers is very low. People get most of their information from other forms of media, like TV, radio, and the Internet. We could argue back and forth about the advantages and disadvantages of these forms, but the bottom line is that most people don’t read newspapers anymore.

So, for journalism to survive and thrive in this age, it’s going to have to change with the times. Newspapers and other print media are going to have to put more resources into developing a web presence if they want to stay afloat.

This wouldn’t be the first time news delivery has changed through the ages…people used to carry news on foot, via stagecoaches, and via telegrams. When stagecoaches were no longer necessary, it would have been kind of fruitless to try to prop up the stagecoach industry, and in the same way, I feel like propping up the daily newspaper industry is sort of fruitless.

Of course, the news industry isn’t the only industry this has happened to. I’m sure lots of hairspray and pantyhose companies bit the dust once the ’80s were over, and I’d guess that hoopskirt manufacturers faced the same problem when fashions changed.

So, on the one hand, I can easily talk myself into thinking that supporting newspapers is pointless.

But on the other hand, I can get very enthused about supporting small family farms, which, with the rise of factory farming, are getting to be few and far between. If that’s the case, why am I not equally enthused about saving newspapers?

I guess it’s because at this point in time (and you can try to change my mind!), I feel like the change from small farms to industry farms is more disastrous than the change from newspapers to online news. Basically, I’m more concerned about preserving local food than I am in preserving daily newspapers.

Plus, the local farm issue affects me more directly. My life isn’t at all worse without a newspaper subscription…in fact, I think it’s better. I have less paper clutter to deal with, I have fewer plastic bags to get rid of, and I’m saving money. But I do think our lives would be worse if the only food we could buy was available from factory farms.

Lastly, I can’t really think of a downside to small family farms, but I can think of some downsides to newspapers (they resources, produce trash, and they’re a fairly slow way of spreading news).


So, what do you think? I’m really hoping that you all will share your input on this topic because I’m honestly not entirely sure of the right solution to this dilemma. And I’m totally teachable on the issue of whether or not the print medium is necessary for the survival of journalism, so feel free to school me. 😉

Photo by laffyk.

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Friday 14th of May 2010

I heard someone ask "If I were investing in a new business where yesterday's news was sent to you tomorrow, distributed by a bunch of pre-teens on bicycles" would you buy into it? No. Because the model is old and doesn't meet the needs we have today. People want news immediately (hence Twitter, news online) and we want just what we're interested in reading. Personally I won't support a failing industry just for the sake of propping it up for another year or two. Oh, and I'm one of the bloggers out there who also works for a newspaper!


Tuesday 4th of May 2010

As a government wonk, I wonder what localities and courts will do with the requirement to print certain things in the "local newspaper of wide repute," or whatever the reigning law says. If you've ever seen those postings about child custody disputes, estate probates, auctions of government property, and so on, those listings are usually required by a law somewhere. The public value of The Newspaper is that it is practically free, widely distributed, and generally held in high regard concerning its content and veracity (I know, we all have papers we love to hate). I agree, of course, that consumption of most of the content in the paper can currently happen online, but what will take over this role of The Newspaper: Information Source for Everyone? I can't see the local TV news taking time out of a broadcast to list the people filing for child custody in absentia, and I am not sure if the Internet is yet *quite* as universally-available as a newspaper because it requires an expensive device. A fellow traveler at the airport will give you a newspaper they're done reading; I doubt many people would hand a stranger their laptop to peruse while taking a little gate-side nap. Another commenter here wondered who will take over the role of investigative journalism? In my house, we read a lot of magazines. The magazines that we read (from "Money" to "Entertainment Weekly") seem to be doing increasingly more feature writing. The articles are more like long-form writing, and often researched over months. To me, the magazine industry seems to be trying to make their products less disposable than in recent years, giving them a perceived value beyond their paper pages. And I like that sort of ability of an industry to evolve.


Tuesday 4th of May 2010

My thought is no more government subsidies for any failing company regardless of the industry. Taxpayer money should be going to paying down the debt or instituting REAL healthcare reform.

There really has been no investigative journalism in the area I live (SF Bay Area) for years whether it be print or TV news; too much celebrity news and the like instead of news that matters. If I want that type of fluff I can buy People magazine.


Monday 3rd of May 2010

when you put it that way, "Are we obligated to support failing industries? (like, oh, newspapers)" of course not.

but consider how that news gets produced. and what you're teaching your children when you have a paper in the home that they see you reading.

some of us who earn a living from writing news for you are doing our best to adjust. but our salaries that feed our families has to come from somewhere. so as readers decline, our colleagues get cut, our pay gets cut and our commitment to watchdogging for you and other taxpayers gets harder to keep up with because we worry about our job security. meanwhile, all the spin artists - the PR reps and government spokespeople - are making a lot more money than us.

i'm just saying. some of us write for a living, not just for the fun of it.


Monday 3rd of May 2010

Oh yes, I do think watch-dogging needs to happen. I'm just not sure it needs to keep happening in print form (or that it's realistic to expect it to). I think this is a little bit like trying to turn the Titanic around...the current populace is already so geared towards TV and the internet, I think it will be hard to revive/save newspapers.

I do feel sad for you journalists, I really do. I hope I didn't sound flippant about that...a low level of job security is super hard to deal with.


Sunday 2nd of May 2010

I doubt anyone will read this, but here are my two cents. The newspaper is still a vital part of a functioning democracy. Newspapers do something most (virtually all) websites don't: They investigate, verify and do indepth analyisis. Here's the thing, websites largely aggregate news from print sources, they don't gather, veryify, question and dig for the truth. Others do that, newspapers do that. Without our newspapers performing these important functions, you and I and all other voting citizens do not know if the information we get is accurate and fair. A citizenry must be well-informed and have access to information from all sides of any issue to become well-informed, so they can make decisions. I am a newspaper person. I've worked in other industries, but I am passionate about what we do, because no other medium undertakes this task in this way. Web presence is a valuable way to capsulize the news for you, but it takes a news staff to do true reporting. Your radio, television and websites are getting their news from us. Who will the turn to when newspapers are no longer in business? Just something to consider.

Maria in Chicago

Sunday 2nd of May 2010

I read your post, and I loved it. Brava!

I mentioned in my post that I feel a connection to the newspaper industry though, ultimately, I never built my career on it. (I interned a bit in print journalism.) I agree with what you say. Do you ever feel discouraged, however, by the extent to which people opt NOT to be well informed? It might not be conscious; maybe it's more out of laziness. People might be addicted to Googling info, but a lot don't seem to know what's happening in the world--or even in their own communities--simply because they don't bother reading or tuning in.

Thanks for your post.

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