The printies are out in force this week chasing phantom solutions to the newspaper industry's problems, and it's all getting rather tiresome. The latest wrinkle is the hoary "Let's force people to pay for newspapers online" suggestion, now raised by former Time magazine editor Walter Isaacson.
The more I think about it, the biggest problem the press has is that the evaporation of advertising has meant that the news it publishes has to stand on its own two feet.
Sure, back in the day there was some foreign news, some local reporting, some great reporters and editors sprinkled across the country. But let’s face it, most newspapers sucked in all sorts of ways, and one of the main ways was opting toward blandness and timidity wherever possible, as as not to offend the older folks subscribing to the papers.
The truth was, it didn’t matter what they published. People just subscribed to newspapers! For the ads, because they always had, some even for the news.
Now, things are different. Online, you have to publish stuff people want to read, or fashion it to seem that way. That’s the transition that’s killing newspapers; it’s something most reporters, editors and publishers never had to do.
I really have to wonder if some of the gross naivete being displayed by otherwise smart editors obsessed with charging people to view newspaper content on the Web is somehow related to most journalists' chronic aversion to understanding the world of business, in particular the business models that underpin newspapers and the Web. Otherwise, they wouldn't make these sorts of illogical assertions about how news should be supported–and they might spend more of their brainpower thinking about creative ways to actually become successful online, rather than trying to photocopy broken old print models.