How Newspapers Tried to Invent the Web, but Failed

What You Should Have Read, Jan. 6, 2009

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How Newspapers Tried to Invent the Web, But Failed

Slate's Jack Shafer asks for a moment of sympathy, please, for newspapers, whose readers and advertisers have been fleeing at a frightening rate. It would be easy to accuse editors and publishers of being clueless about the coming Internet disruption and to insist that the industry's proper reward for decades of haughty attitude, bad planning, and incompetence is bankruptcy. But newspapers have really, really tried to wrap their hands around the future and preserve their franchise, an insight he owes to Pablo J. Boczkowski's 2004 book, "Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers." The industry has understood from the advent of AM radio in the 1920s that technology would eventually be its undoing and has always behaved accordingly. After all, as early as 1947, Walter Annenberg's Philadelphia Inquirer and John S. Knight's Miami Herald experimented with fax editions of their papers. Seems visionary enough to Shafer. So what happened?

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