by Gary North
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 new policy requires us to pay several dollars to retrieve an article more than a few days old. But why should we pay? Are the articles really that good? Are they so unique that other articles don't cover the same topic? Besides, someone, somewhere, has probably posted that article free of charge on his website or blogsite. The "fair use" doctrine, coupled with the impossibly high cost of suing a million tiny websites, one by one, has made copyright obsolete for journalism. Furthermore, other newspapers pay to reprint articles published in the Times, and these articles remain on-line for free.
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.
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
Copyright © 2006 LewRockwell.com