Watching the 'New York Times' Self-Destruct

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The “good gray
lady” was never particularly good, but these days, she is surely
gray. Color photos on the front page came way too late. Like some
aging hooker with pancake make-up, she walks the streets in hope
but in vain.

Newspapers
are dying. They are broadcast media and print media and push media
in an era of narrowcasting, electronic communications, and interactive
media.

Newspapers
are aimed at people who like to hold newsprint in their hands. These
people are dying off, or at least pinching pennies tightly because
they failed to save for retirement. They are the people advertisers
do not want to pay for.

The Times
fares very well in Alexa ratings: around #50. But Alexa ratings
are not the same as paid subscribers.

The Times
is the “newspaper of record” because, way back in pre-Web days,
it had a comprehensive annual index. Researchers are lazy. They
want shortcuts. The Times annual hardback Index was the researcher’s
shortcut. The Index, coupled with microfilm, made the Times
the agreed-upon secondary source.

Today, Google
in seconds makes the Times Index an anachronism, i.e., something
useful for accessing pre-Google stories.

The Times
went to a free subscription format a couple of years ago. You must
register to access its articles. Problem: the techies did not bother
to make the system work. I find that I can access articles about
50% of the time. I sit there half the time, entering and re-entering
my name and password. There is a box to click that tells the software
to remember my name and password. It doesn’t work.

If I were not
so delighted that the Times is committing suicide in full
public view, it would anger me. Instead, I rejoice. That bloated
purveyor of Left wing Establishment opinion is not long for this
world.

When the paper’s
management has not spotted this problem after more than a year,
you know they are not going to be able to save the paper. The on-line
“paper” is digital, and the techies are in charge. Techies beta-test
nothing that they are not threatened with dismissal for not beta-testing.

Management
should hire several part-time people to do nothing but test the
subscription form several times a day. The techies are now visibly
in charge. Nothing on-line is safe. Nothing that is supposed to
work will work predictably unless the techies are monitored and
hounded.

The Times
got used to the idea that a Times article was somehow definitive.
That was true back in the days of microfilm and the Index. Today,
the Times has no monopoly on reporting and no staying power
in the footnotes. Decentralized technologies have undermined what
used to be a monopoly based on research library access.

The Times
gets to pay its gargantuan staff. The public then appropriates the
fruits of this expenditure free of charge. This financial model
is doomed.

Consider revenue
from running classified ads. What does the Times offer that
Craigslist doesn’t? Craigslist
is free
.

There is no
working financial model for modern newspapers. All of the papers
are hemorrhaging money and readers. Some just lose money slower
than others.

High school
students do not read newspapers. Neither do most college students.
A habit not picked up by age 20 is unlikely to be learned. My generation
suffers from Picard’s Syndrome: a
psychosis that demands that you hold a bound printed book in your
lap when reading. My children are as comfortable with a print-out
as a bound book. They do not subscribe to newspapers.

Defenders of
traditional journalism say, “Blogs can’t replace newspapers. Bloggers
just don’t have the time or money to research stories.” The argument
is irrelevant if readers are not willing to buy products advertised
in on-line newspapers that they refuse to pay money to subscribe
to. The newspapers’ staffers may console themselves with the mantra
that the public just cannot do without them, but the downsizing
is accelerating. They had better start blogs. They will need their
own personal networks to find employment.

Decentralization
is replacing the gatekeepers who have long controlled print media.
Like law enforcement officers, reporters rely heavily on tipsters.
Tipsters can get their jollies by sending their reports to a widely
read website, blog, or portal site. They don’t need the New York
Times. Daniel Ellsberg needed the Times when he leaked
the Pentagon papers a generation ago. He would not need the Times
today.

In-depth articles
will become less frequent. But how many people read in-depth articles?
Not many. Most people read the headline, a subhead, and the first
three paragraphs.

The gatekeepers
thought they possessed permanent technological monopolies. Those
monopolies are disappearing.

Competition
for readers today centers on time and money. When electronic delivery
is free, time becomes the premier currency. Most people read or
view their dozen sites. Their habits are set. To get them to read
yours, you must persuade them to drop someone else’s.

Delivery is
close to free. A marketing strategy must be cheap or word-of-mouth
based. It is now very expensive to get readers to switch sites.
The media giants are fading, and there will be no replacements.
Narrowcasting and fragmentation are the wave of the future.

We are going
back to communities — not geographical but ideological, personal,
cultural, and artistic. We are no longer interested in good, gray
anything.

The
Times is doomed. It’s about time.

July
18, 2006

Gary
North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible
.

Gary
North Archives

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