Print Media Is Fading Fast. But What About Journalism?

March 22, 2010

There’s really no denying it. Sure, we may still be reading books for awhile, and even magazines. But eventually, all of these models are going to go digital, and in fact, they already are. And while the time frame for this change is unsure, one thing is certain: the more frequent and ephemeral the publication, the sooner it will be eliminated from paper distribution. This means that out of books, journals, magazines, and newspapers, the daily news is going to be the first model to go completely digital.

This is because it simply does not make sense to go through the entire production process to produce a bundle of paper that someone will spend one to two hours reading. Just think about it. First, a lumber company has to go out into the forest and cut down a massive number of trees. Then, these must be painstakingly loaded onto giant trucks requiring excessive amounts of fuel and taken to a mill where more energy is required to grind the wood up and turn it into pulp, involving a long series of steps that most of us have never taken the time to think about, much less fully understand. But even once the trees have been converted to paper, this paper must be loaded onto another truck, requiring more carbon-based fuel, and then taken to a printing location where it is loaded into a multi-million dollar hunk of iron (with a huge carbon foot print, no doubt) and finally printed—of course requiring tons of ink, which has it’s own convoluted production process. (I’ll leave out the environmental and monetary cost behind actually bundling up the newspapers and paying people in automobiles to drive around and distribute them to your doorstep.)

And why do we do all of this? Just so we can spend a few minutes a day reading a newspaper? Someone may read a book more than once and put it on his or her shelf for years, and even a magazine may float around the house for a week or two, but as soon as a newspaper has been looked through for an hour or less, it goes straight into the recycling bin. At my house, I sometimes miss a day, and am forced to recycle a newspaper that I haven’t even read yet!

It’s clear that the market will not put up with this waste forever. It’s simply not profitable, and hence cannot last. And furthermore, there’s not much reason for us to want it to. News is far more accessible in an electronic format. The only problem that we face is finding a way to lose this wasteful distribution model without throwing out journalism with it. We must keep the actual business of finding and reporting information alive, even as the world inevitably moves toward the digital age.

A recent skit on The Daily Show made this dilemma painfully clear. They sent a couple of “reporters” to the New York Times and gleefully pointed out that both the Dredge Report and the Huffington Post are more profitable than this classic paper, despite the fact that they do little to no actual investigative journalism. This was presented as quite funny on the show, but when you step back and think about it, it’s actually frightening. The market is currently rewarding blogs better than investigative reporting from a major paper—all the more reason why journalism needs to find a new distribution model, and fast.

Think Outside the Newsstand,
Joe

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