Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Why are newspapers dying in New Jersey?

As many readers of The Courier know, the newspaper decided to become a basically online publication, with a printed bi-weekly supplement, around the beginning of the year. That was because, for many years now, the prophets of the news industry, at all levels, have warned about the "death of print."

There are an awful lot of bad things that come with print dying, in my opinion. But that is all the more reason for credible, traditional news organizations, at each level, to consider their online presence much more carefully.

The habits of the reading public have driven the news industry since its beginning. Before the advent of computers, print was the only game in town. Newspapers seemed to have a monopoly on the news because they had the presses, and they owned the ink. But like all things, this changed.

If nothing else, the Internet is 'the great equalizer' among publications. No more does a news organization need to operate at the costs traditionally associated with the business. So, just what a news organization is has become relative. Now is not the time for traditional newspapers to dig a fortified ditch and wait for the comeback of print. It isn't coming back. The Internet isn't getting turned off. As my late father used to say, "No use closing the gate when the horse is already out of the barn."

As in all things, the market dictates how industries move. Just as the creation of the automobile pre-destined the creation of vastly improved U.S. roads, the Internet has pre-destined that news is going to be conveyed digitally, and not so much in ink.

Paper optimists say there will always be room for news print. But, I disagree. Sure, it will hold on for awhile -- a long while. But let's face it: The horse is out of the barn.

When I came into this industry, in the mid-1990s, it was pretty much the industry that has always been there: typewriters everywhere, people cutting and pasting the mock-ups of news pages. I used to run around getting stories and scurry back to whatever newsroom I was at and start banging away on a typewriter. The camaraderie was great and the institution of news was one you could plan a career around. Yet, as nostalgic as that is, it's a memory for albums and not a business plan anymore.

The question is credibility of news sites now. Everyone and their brother is jumping into an online presence. The question that news organizations are going to have to ask themselves behind closed doors is if they are prepared to have kids in garages and non-journalists grow up in online news because they are waiting for some flood to wipe out electricity.

During the absence of good, solid news organizations online, amateurs and non-professionals are filling a void that gives them a growing advantage while solid publications linger dying. There is an old saying about the Lord helping those who help themselves. In my opinion, they are words to live by.

-- Jim Purcell
Publisher, The Courier

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