The online-only “paper”

The newspaper of the future: all news, no paper. Steve Outing of Editor and Publisher writes on what it looks like, and how it works. It is a well thought-through piece, really focussing on some of the transitions of staffing and operations. It also provides a good and heart-felt aspiration for the exercise. “The great hope will be that these digital-only newspaper descendents will learn and grow, and once again provide more jobs for journalists. At least while we wait for that, the communities they serve will continue to have a watchdog with a louder bark than community bloggers and local TV and radio news outlets. It’s the cities and towns that completely lose their newspaper and Web site that I really worry about.” Add to the growing list of good visualisations of the online-only paper. There will be some: the Christian Science Monitor goes online only in April.

Does this make economic sense? Newsosaur, Alan Mutter, thinks not. The comments on this are also interesting. I much prefer this debate (and indeed most of them) when they have some numbers and business logic.  “Because newspapers on average derive approximately 90% of their sales from print advertising, the only ink-on-paper newspapers that can afford to attempt digital-only publishing are the ones that are irreversibly losing money… But those web-only franchises would produce far less cash than their print predecessors, reducing the value of those businesses by several magnitudes. “


Another thing the thesis doesn’t really address: why bother? Why would we assemble all these people in a city-focussed entity – the Blowville Times or the Suckville Gazette – if it were online? Why would the people at the (presumably revenue-generating) site that covers local business want to cross-subsidise the investigators, or those that cover City Hall? Where will it get its foreign news from – will it even try? 


One Response to The online-only “paper”

  1. Brian Cathcart says:

    “Why would we assemble all these people in a city-focussed entity – the Blowville Times or the Suckville Gazette – if it were online?”

    Indeed. British regional newspapers are enduring a slump/collapse that seems even more sudden than what is happening across the US, and it set me wondering about modern views of community. Local, in the geographical sense, has much less value in Britain than it used to and I suspect that for many people under 40 or so it translates as corny or petty or insignificant. It is old hat to say this, but it’s true: many people have little connection with their locality. They drive; they phone; they use the Web; they watch national TV and listen to national radio. What do they care if a factory five miles away closes? Or if some teenager is murdered a mile away? Or if a “local” author writes a bestseller? If they know anyone involved in these stories they will hear it from them — modern communications make that easy. And if they don’t, then they won’t read it at all because it is not relevant to them. The local football club is either a global franchise they can read about anywhere and everywhere, or it is run on a shoestring from a mud hut by volunteers and not worth reading about. These people — we — may have communities, but they are different communities that don’t depend much on what is local.

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