The Printed Newspaper Is Not Facing Extinction (Yet)

An Ad Age Editorial

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Last week marked another death in the newspaper world. The Christian Science Monitor announced it would be laying to rest the print version of its daily paper, switching to a weekly print model and housing everything else on the web. But before we rush to dump the entire newspaper industry into the grave with it, everyone should take a deep breath. Daily newspapers aren't going anywhere -- not anytime soon, at least.

That's not to say print newspapers don't risk eventual extinction because of ongoing media and technology evolution. Many newspapers have adapted their editorial product to the web much better than, say, monthly consumer magazines. Still, every time we read that a newspaper has separate print and web editorial staffs, we shake our heads. News gathering should be one of the most expensive parts of the operation; it's the only thing separating newspapers from blogs (and even that gap is closing). But certainly you don't need two separate reporters covering the same story just because one runs on the web and the other in print.

The most likely place papers will run into an evolutionary dead end will be the advertising and subscription models. Even those who have climbed out of the muck to evolve into sturdy web-dwelling entities -- The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times -- realize they still get the bulk of their money from old-fashioned print. The Times, for example, has an excellent website, crammed as it is with all of the Times print stories as well as graphics and video made possible only because of the web. But if the powers that be decided to kill off the stodgy, gray and expensive-to-produce print version tomorrow, the rest of the operation wouldn't be long for this world, starved of the advertising revenue brought in by the paper.

Some historical perspective is necessary as well, seeing as how we've all been killing off the daily paper for decades now. As Ted Turner said at the American Newspaper Publishers Association's annual meeting way back in 1981, "You're becoming obsolete very rapidly. It's not your manner of news gathering that is at fault; it's your dissemination that's outdated."

It's been more than 25 years since Turner issued those remarks. And newspapers are still trying to figure out the dissemination model. But the print guys probably have a few years left in them. Still, they'd better figure out a revenue model before time runs out.
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