One of the complaints you sometimes hear about newspapers has nothing to do with what they say (or don't say) or how well they reach their audiences; it has to do with the paper they're printed on. Clear-cutting forests' worth of trees to crush them up and smear ink on them is less and less politically correct in these increasingly "green" times we live in. Many people who've canceled their newspaper subscriptions complain about papers piling up in a corner, having to be recycled, and have chosen to end their participation in this environmental waste.
There's another industry going through many of the same technological changes as the newspaper business, and it's starting to face a real backlash about wasting dead trees: the Yellow Pages directory business. With thick Yellow Pages (and White Pages) books more and more irrelevant in many households and businesses (sound like anything we know?), there's a growing movement to ban or at least restrict the distribution of phone books. And the directory business is starting to respond, at least paying more lip service to the green movement. One of the leading organizations opposed to Yellow Pages distribution, YellowPagesGoesGreen, says, "Municipalities and local government that provide trash services are extremely concerned about the landfill cost and why they have to absorb the cost of handling the telephone directories."
It's not hard to imagine the same sort of rhetoric directed toward the piles of newspapers that readers put into their recycling bins (at best) every week. Newspaper companies need to be watching this closely. The environmental impact of newspaper printing and distribution has been a ticking time bomb for years, and the rapid growth of interest in all things green could start putting more pressure on the industry in short order. That could lead to more use of recycled papers, smaller papers, or even pressure to switch more quickly and aggressively to online distribution.
Newspapers have been lucky to dodge this bullet so far—largely because their newsrooms, in their aggressive coverage of and editorializing on the environmental movement and the need for things like more fuel-efficient cars and cleaner industrial emissions, have conveniently chosen not to look too closely at their own industry's environmental impact. But the activists are now coming for the phone book business; can increased scrutiny and criticism of newspapers' crushed-dead-tree practices be far behind?