Saturday, April 15, 2006

Dead trees with print on them?

Friends still in the newspaper industry are going through tough times with reorganizations and staff down-sizing.

In January, Hollinger International announced that it was cutting about 300 jobs in the Chicago Sun-Times group, which includes many suburban community newspapers. From what I hear, many of those staff cutbacks are taking place now through voluntary acceptance of "packages" and attrition.

What's happening with Hollinger is part of a larger industry-wide trend. Last month, BBC Online ran a story about decreasing circulation among newspapers titled "Dead trees with print on them."
"It's not a romantic image, but it's increasingly appropriate. The familiar cliche, dead trees with print on them, describes a product that is increasingly unattractive in the United States. Newspaper circulation has been falling here since 1988, but it got significantly worse last year."

Shortly after I graduated from journalism school back in 1991, I remember visiting my former news professor. He asked me what I thought the future of newspapers and the Internet might be. I was working at a community paper that published twice a week, and didn't have Internet access myself. At the time, I remember thinking that major print media might someday be in trouble, but community journalism had its niche in newsprint. There were very few options for people to get their local news.

But now I think about that question, and it seems to me that the future of all "newspapers" is the Internet, with print production being the niche commodity.

I look at my own reading habits. I hardly ever pick up a newspaper, unless I'm traveling or eating alone in a restaurant, but everyday I read the headlines online. I like to check out the BBC, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times, and if I'm feeling particularly frisky, My Yahoo Headlines, Aljazeera or Google News. I can stay conversant on news topics looking at these sites, especially if I look at the "most emailed" or "most popular stories" pages.

Supplemented with straight news on the radio and the mock television news shows "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report", I feel well informed.

But a part of me still loves old-fashioned newspapers. I remember the feeling of running back to the press area late at night and watching my paper come off the presses. Being able to pick it up and say "I made this." So tangible. So permanent seeming.

Newspapers will never be dead trees with print on them to me.

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