Over the course of the last weeks and months we heard a lot about major newspapers starting to go online only or shutting down their operations altogether. The Rocky Mountain News´s last issue appeared on February 27th 2009 and the San Francisco Chronicle is also in a very unstable position. Both of these papers had a long tradition and wide distribution but suffered under the changes of news consumption and increasing production costs. It seems as if we are witnessing a major change in the news landscape. But which consequences will these changes have?
According to a recent study done by the PewResearchCenter “many Americans wouldn’t care a lot if local papers folded”. Not even half of them (43%) think that “losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community a lot”. So maybe the death of the local paper is no big problem. We already gather a lot of our daily news using online and mobile sources which get their information from the major news agencies like AP or Reuters. This is also reflected in the study. On the other hand this is not true if one looks at local news which is not covered by the major agencies. 30% think that civic life would be hurt “a lot” when local papers fold especially because of the loose of these local news items. Following this though the real question has to be: How can we make sure that local news will still be accessible in a world without small local papers?
Alternative news sources are developing right now. There are blogs by local citizens and other sources of so called citizen journalism. There is a constant stream of information from locales in different social media channels like Twitter, Flickr and so on. But can these tools completely replace the work of a dedicated journalist focussed on a certain geographic area? I think this question cannot be answered today as we are in the middle of this transition.
As stated above some daily papers see a possibility to survive in stopping the printed version and focussing on their online work. If one considers that printing and delivering is by far the most costly part of producing a daily paper this option seems very viable. Take just this example: Printing and delivering the New York Times to it subscribers for one year costs the company more than it would to just give every subscriber an eBook Reader like the Amazon Kindle and deliver the paper wirelessly onto this device. But the change to be “online first” is very difficult for the papers as online revenue models have to be established. One major question for example is: Should there be paid versions or should revenue just come from ads?
It may be that printed newspaper has seen its times and other forms of delivery (web browsers, ePaper) will take its place. Maybe their will also be a major shift from professional journalism to citizen made news but in the end it is important that citizens can access international, national and local news to be able to take part in the social and political discourse.
What are your thoughts on these developments? Do we need or classic papers or are their days just numbered?