I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Sure, good news is vital, but the government shouldn’t subsidize it
The Santa Fe New Mexican made a brief announcement the other day that, due to declining advertising revenue, it was cutting the equivalent of twelve jobs. The paper’s report quoted associate publisher Ginny Sohn as affirming that the paper was “strong and stable and will be for a long time.”
Having witnessed the gradual contraction of the paper in the more than three years I’ve been a subscriber, I have to say that this sounds like hope rather than analysis.
The New Mexican has slimmed down considerably over the years, and recently the paper began consolidating all of its sections into only two sections several days a week.
The difficulties facing the New Mexican are part of a larger phenomenon that has spawned ominous headlines like Chronicling The Death Of American Newspapers (NPR), Out of Print (The New Yorker), Chronicle of the Newspaper Death Foretold (Slate) and The Death of the News (Salon). There is even a Web site called Newspaper Death Watch whose left-hand column runs, under the header R.I.P., a list of U.S. metropolitan dailies that have closed since the creation of the site.
It seems almost inevitable, really. All that paper and ink, all those expensive printing presses, all those people driving around town delivering the papers — how can print newspapers possibly compete with the Internet? I get the vast majority of my news from the internet, and at times have been tempted to go paperless myself.
I haven’t, because I like to read the actual newspaper while having my coffee in the morning, but I spend more time reading the New York Times and several other papers on my computer screen than I do reading the New Mexican on newsprint.
People my age and older are likely to feel nostalgic about newspapers, and hope they can survive the digital onslaught, just as people in previous generations felt the same way when automobiles replaced horse-drawn carriages, electricity replaced gaslight, and antiseptics replaced leeches.
The dread expressed by many journalists and commentators at the impending death of the local daily paper goes far beyond nostalgia. Saving the newspapers is so vital that, as Gary Kamiya at Salon suggests that subsidizing newspapers may be the only answer.
Ah, yes. It always comes down to that, doesn’t it. Throw some taxpayer money at it, and the problem will go away. If not, a dark world awaits us. Kamiya warns:
If newspapers die, so does reporting. That’s because the majority of reporting originates at newspapers. Online journalism is essentially parasitic… Currently there is no business model that makes online reporting financially viable. From a business perspective, reporting is a loser. There are good financial reasons why the biggest content-driven Web business success story of the last few years, the Huffington Post, does very little original reporting. Reported pieces take a lot of time, cost a lot of money, require specialized skills and don’t usually generate as much traffic as an Op-Ed screed, preferably by a celebrity. It takes a facile writer an hour to write an 800-word rant. Very seldom can the best daily reporters and editors produce copy that fast.
As someone who writes 800-word rants for an online newspaper, I might be expected to take exception to that. But I readily admit that I can write a column a lot faster than I could go out and produce a piece of investigative journalism. I’m just not convinced that investigative journalism is going to die along with the daily paper. It will change, but it won’t die.
If the online newspaper eventually does replace the printed page — and I cannot help but believe that it eventually will — there will still be investigative journalists because there will still be readers who want to know the facts.
Yes, I read a lot of op-ed pieces online, but I read a lot of news stories there too. Newspapers have been so successful for so many years because there is a market for what they produce.
Today, the internet is undercutting that market, but the time is not going to come when all the newspapers are gone and all that’s left is a world wide web full of 800-word op-ed screeds. There is still going to be a market for news content, and eventually the online news providers will figure out a way to make providing that content sufficiently profitable. I know that I would pay to read the news online if that was the only way I could access it, and many others would as well.
Right now, the news business is in a state of flux because of changing technologies. Eventually, it will sort itself out.
Will there be bumps along the way? Undoubtedly. But bringing the government in to the rescue is not going to make that road any smoother in the long run.