The newspaper business is abuzz about an essay by Poynter Institute Senior Scholar Roy Peter Clark, who proposes that a key step to saving the newspaper industry is to get journalists to actually read newspapers themselves. But wait, that's not all: Clark is very specific: "It is your duty as a journalist and a citizen to read the newspaper —emphasis on paper, not pixels."
But it gets even worse. This preposterous suggestion has ignited a firestorm of comments on the usually placid Poynter site (more than 60, at last count, which is a lot for Poynter), and what's really scary is how many of the respondents actually agree with Clark. They even boast about their own print newspaper reading habits, including that old chestnut about how holding a newspaper is such a great experience that you can't replicate online, and thus somehow sacred.
Good lord. To borrow a great coinage from Howard Owens, the "newsroom turtles" are out in force here, clinging to the idea that newsprint is somehow the perfect way to present news, and stubbornly believing that the print product will survive if we just wish it to be so.
Reality is different, and Luddites like Clark are falling into the same classic trap--widely taught in business schools--that the railroads fell into a century ago: Faced with competiton from upstart airlines and automobiles, railroads clung to their romantic view of themselves as train operators, without understanding that they were actually in the transportation business, and that the mode of transportation was secondary. You know the rest of that story.
Those like Clark who confusedly and romantically think that newspapers are in the "paper" business, and not in the "news" business, are on the road to the same fate. Internet, RSS, video, iPhone, Flash, smoke signals, carrier pigeons—hell, it doesn't matter how you get the story out. Just make sure you know you're in the journalism business, not in the printing business, and accept that the printed newspaper may soon be a thing of the past.
What's interesting about many of these responses is how many of these smart, middle-aged people reveal that they generally don't read print newspapers anymore themselves. I'm another—online is simply a better medium for most news and journalism, and it doesn't kill a few forests of trees every day to do it. Electronic news is becoming increasingly portable, and will be more so in the years to come, further eroding the one of the newspaper's last advantages.
Stop clinging to the printed newspaper and start thinking about how to work with new technologies to publish and distribute the news and journalism that is so important. Don't be a turtle!