Jul 31, 2009

"I'm not dead yet!"

Earnings are up at the largest newspaper companies, beating back predictions - and some hopes - of utter doom in the industry. This is good news if you read a newspaper, better still if you work for one. It may also turn down the volume on some of the social media experts who think their version of change is inevitable.

As Howard Weaver at Ethaoin Shrdlu puts it:
Many of the people predicting the imminent death of printed news or counseling companies to shutter newspapers and spend all their money on the web are drinking their own bathwater. They have a vision – many times a clear and compelling vision – of what the shift to a digital, networked world will look like, but they’re in danger of leaping to conclusions that aren’t there.

I don’t believe untrained or unpaid volunteers alone can produce the kind of journalism on which democracy depends. I believe most people want and value good filters to separate signal from noise – and the best way we’ve ever found to do that is with professional journalists.
Weaver himself makes a leap, predicting that death of objectivity and an end to the role of news organizations as gatekeepers:
Transparency and fairness remain achievable goals; combined with the new plethora of views and opinions, that may be enough to support a consensus reality and common vocabulary for public affairs.
Find me the "consensus reality" on health care reform, Obama's birth certificate or racial profiling and I'll give you a pony. Also, does anyone think institutions of power, faith and money plan to surrender their roles as gatekeepers and speakers of "objective" truth? Isn't this the reason why journalists attempt to remain "objective" in trying to distill competing viewpoints into an impartial analysis?

Anyway, back to the financial picture. Alan Mutter makes the important point that these higher earnings follow steep one-time cuts and adjustments. To rebound, newspapers need advertising dollars to rebound, because there's little left to trim. There's also the fact that readers aren't going to subsidized substandard papers:
Newspaper readers, who by definition are among the most thoughtful members of society, are perceptive enough to know they are paying more today for newspapers that deliver far less news and advertising than ever before. They are doing so, to the extent they are doing so, in the hopes they can help the industry survive.

But their patience will not be infinite. If newspapers can’t find a way to do better by their readers, they are in danger of slashing themselves to oblivion.

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