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« Traffic magnets | Main | You're boring »

When newspapers are gone, what will you miss?

Years and years after some pundits began predicting the end of newspapers, the newspapers themselves are finally realizing that it's over. Huge debt, high costs, declining subscription rates, plummeting ad base--will the last one out please turn off the lights.

On their way out, though, we're hearing a lot of, "you'll miss us when we're gone..." laments. I got to thinking about this. It's never good to watch people lose their livelihoods or have to move on to something new, even if it might be better. I respect and honor the hard work that so many people have put into newspapers along the way. If we make a list of newspaper attributes and features, which ones would you miss?

Woodpulp, printing presses, typesetting machines, delivery trucks, those stands on the street and the newsstand... I think we're okay without them.

The sports section? No, that's better online, and in no danger of going away, in fact, overwritten commentary by the masses is burgeoning.

The weather? Ditto. Comics are even better online, and I don't think we'll run out of those.

Book and theater and restaurant reviews? In fact, there are more of these online, often better, definitely more personal and relevant, and also in no danger of going away.

The full page ads for local department stores? The free standing inserts on Sunday? The supermarket coupons? Easily replaced.

How about the editorials and op eds? Again, I think we're not going to see opinion go away, in fact, the web amplifies the good stuff.

What's left is local news, investigative journalism and intelligent coverage of national news. Perhaps 2% of the cost of a typical paper. I worry about the quality of a democracy when the the state government or the local government can do what it wants without intelligent coverage. I worry about the abuse of power when the only thing a corrupt official needs to worry about is the TV news. I worry about the quality of legislation when there isn't a passionate, unbiased reporter there to explain it to us.

But then I see the in depth stories about the gowns to be worn to the inauguration or the selection of the White House dog and I wonder if newspapers are the most efficient way to do this anyway.

The web has excelled at breaking the world into the tiniest independent parts. We don't use this to support that online. Things support themselves. The food blog isn't a loss leader for the gardening blog. They're separate, usually run by separate people or organizations.

Punchline: if we really care about the investigation and the analysis, we'll pay for it one way or another. Maybe it's a public good, a non profit function. Maybe a philanthropist puts up money for prizes. Maybe the Woodward and Bernstein of 2017 make so much money from breaking a story that it leads to a whole new generation of journalists.

The reality is that this sort of journalism is relatively cheap (compared to everything else the newspaper had to do in order to bring it to us.) Newspapers took two cents of journalism and wrapped in ninety-eight cents of overhead and distraction. The magic of the web, the reason you should care about this even if you don't care about the news, is that when the marginal cost of something is free and when the time to deliver it is zero, the economics become magical. It's like 6 divided by zero. Infinity.

I'm not worried about how muckrakers will make a living. Tree farmers, on the other hand, need to find a new use for newsprint.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference When newspapers are gone, what will you miss?:

» http://thepoliticalclass.typepad.com/blog/2009/01/seth-godin-has-a-terrific-post-about-about-the-decline-and-fall-of-newsapapersthe-reality-is-that-this-sort-of-journalism-is.html from The Political Class
Seth Godin has a terrific post about about the decline and fall of newsapapers:The reality is that this sort of journalism is relatively cheap (compared to everything else the newspaper had to do in order to bring it to us.)... [Read More]

» If newspapers disappear, will it matter? from Social Media
Author and marketer extraordinaire Seth Godin has a provocative new post: When newspapers are gone, what will you miss?As regular readers know, I worked in print newsrooms for the better part of 20 years before transitioning to the online medium, and I... [Read More]

» What will you miss about newspapers? from Boing Boing
Seth Godin asks the question, "When newspapers are gone, what will you miss?" And answers it: "deep investigative reporting." But that reporting is only two percent of the daily rag, and the other 98 percent is stuff the web does well: What's left is l... [Read More]

» Seth's Blog: When newspapers are gone, what will you miss? from Neuron Culture
Seth Godin offers another take on what we might miss if/when newspapers die: investigative journalism. What's left ... [Read More]

» What I Will Miss About Newspapers from Metamedia
A pleasure of a newspaper is to flip the pages back and forth, letting the eye wander from headline to headline, choosing morsels and tasting as little or much as you wish, one section at a time. ...We have our favorite regular items and sections, ... [Read More]

» Am I The Only One Who Still Loves A Newspaper? from The Way We Watch
You can wax all you want about how the newspaper is on life support. Why the 'net is sooo much of a better way to read the today's news. And how the business model of a physical newspaper is dead. Seth Godin makes his argument that 98% of the paper wil... [Read More]

» Когда газет не будет, чего вам будет не хватать? from Как продать
Газета тратит 2 цента на журналистику и оборачивает ее в 99 центов накладных расходов и прочих затрат. ... [Read More]

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