Are Newspapers Doomed?

I surely hope not.

That’s the question posed on the Britannica Blog’s extremely lengthy, multiple-post spanning forum, Are Newspapers Doomed? (Do We Care?): Newspapers and the Net Forum. Yeah, that was a mouthful.

Like I said, this is a lengthy read spread out over nine posts. The posts are written by various journalism and new media heavyweights such as Clay Shirky and Jay Rosen and include roughly 30 comment responses from other important folks in the new media landscape. Yeah, it’s a lot to digest and to be honest I haven’t even had a chance to read it all since being directed to it by new media maven Jeff Jarvis in his response to the forum (read this, it has some really fun, crudely-drawn charts drawn by Jarvis).

The initial question though I think is a little too simplistic and hurts the discussion. Are newspapers doomed? That’s no more valid of question than when they asked if radio was doomed at the dawn of television or if the music industry was doomed when the MP3 hit the scene.

If newspapers try and stay exactly the same, making money via the standard business model with owners attempting to reap the 15 to 20 percent profit margins like the days of old, then yes, newspapers are indeed doomed. Doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed…yes, doomed. The better question should be, ‘Is journalism doomed?’

To this I say no, journalism will live on. The medium may change, but news and information will always be a necessity. Media barons, owners and publishers need to embrace this changing of the guard and the change being forced upon them by the Internet, mobile platforms and advances in Web applications. Hanging on to the old model like a child holding on to a favorite blanket is a losing battle and is only going prolong the inevitable.

Cutting news rooms and limiting outgoing costs to maintain those profits is not going to allow a news organization, any news organization, the keep up with the speed of the new media landscape. The age-old adage of “Do more with less” doesn’t apply in journalism. It may work in manufacturing, it may work on a labor union-run dock but it simply does not work at a news organization.

To quote Gus Haynes on HBO’s The Wire: “If the paper is still profitable, why are we making cutbacks?”

Our product has a dual-purpose, one of which is intangible: to inform. We aren’t making widgets here, we’re telling people the news. Regardless of how that news gets to them, people will always need some sort of filter and someone to deliver that news to them. Yeah I’m young, I know, and one day my idealism and love of this business will be beat into submission, but not today.

Even though we are in a semi-dark period in modern journalism, I for one am happy to be embarking in this business right now. Once we finally shed this dark shroud of bottom-line thinking and write first, think later style of journalism, I think the industry will emerge into a renaissance period that will embrace the technology and capabilities at our fingertips.

Either that, or you’ll find me greeting you the next time you step into Wal-Mart.

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