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The news medium has a message: "Goodbye"

Every so often there's a story about about a technophobe executive so out of touch a secretary has to print out their email every morning so they can read it on paper and dictate replies.

That's what the print newspaper is, of course. Why on earth would you print all that stuff out? Over a hundred pages, most of which you're not going to read, with the crease down the middle of the front page photo, story jumps everywhere, a carbon-footprint disaster to produce, distribute and recycle. It's absurd.

Back in 1980 newspapers were the main way that bytes flowed into people's homes. Radio and TV for audio/video, but the newspaper delivered the bytes that were read like the text-based web.

I once worked out some rough back-of-napkin estimates on the number of text bytes in the paper. It was only delivered once during the day, but if you average the bytes across the entire 24 hour period it came out to be about the rate of a 300 baud modem. The newspaper was the internet.

It was mostly one way - except for all those classified ads and the letters to the editor. It was really a lot more like AOL, since it was centrally controlled and edited.

But it did represent the sole text byte pipe into the home. And so it contained every content vertical, all in one package. National news, world news, local community sections. Little league scores and the NFL. Weather, stock tables, TV listings, home sales. Advertising, both national, local and personal. Games and political commentary and the police blotter. Everything.

Fortified by the high cost of the printing press and the limited radius of delivery trucks there was a natural local monopoly to these things. And indeed, they were a wonderful business, a so-called license to print money. Huge fortunes were made.

That's all over now of course. The subsidy that classifieds supplied for bureaus in distant cities is gone. The class of professional reporters as we know them is going to be smaller and funded differently.

I was at the TechCrunch office welcoming party last night, and was struck by how unassuming the offices were. This was the big move up, of course. They were still unpacking after moving out of Mike Arrington's house. But it was a small office with a few desks scattered around, a handful of computers. I've toured the massive AP newsroom, rebuilt in 2004 to cater to every desire of a journalist. The Reuters newsroom had pods that look like they were inspired by Norad in Wargames, with circular banks of monitors around central stations, all showing live feeds or charts from various sources. The old Mercury News offices were vast.

TechCrunch was a modest affair by comparison. So this is where it all happens..., I thought. This is what the modern business press looks like now.

Get used to it.

Comments (9)

Spot on, Rich.

Newspapers got a lot of their value because they were the cheapest way to distribute a varied bundle of content. With the internet, they aren't anymore.

If you look at most of the content in a newspaper (with the exception of NYT, WSJ and a few others), it's not generated by the local paper.

Stock tables, TV listings, columns, national and world news, classified ads, sports scores, comics... all of these are created by other people. And these other people discovered they could deliver a better experience going to users directly via the internet.

I get my Dilbert every morning via email, straight from the distributor. I don't have to incur the environmental cost of printing 50 other comics I don't read. As a bonus, every strip is in color because there's no additional cost.

Newspapers also suffer from a lack of depth and couldn't satisfy the hard core on a subject. You have to cater to the middle because you can only print so much. Sports, business and politics junkies needs are much better served online.

The other issue that hard-core journalists don't see is that what they value is not what the average reader values. The only piece of content that the NYT has gotten people to consistently pay for: the crossword puzzle.

Scott:

Every so often a forest will burn down and start fresh. An economic crisis like the one we are in, though fraught with woes, does do a bit of much needed house cleaning. So long, paper news!

Nice post. If you haven't already read about MNG's new project for an in-home "Custom News" solution, you'll get a good laugh out of this:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/09/business/media/09print.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=%22Los%20Angeles%20Daily%22&st=cse

@Blake, but will you be able to use a CueCat to scan a link from your custom printed newspaper to then visit a Web site?

Casey Parker:

I am not certain the batteries required to power our electronics aren't indeed worse that the ink and paper. Plus it takes plenty of energy to power your laptop and the white-space everyone loves on the screen. Frankly, I enjoy folding up the paper and reading a section while huddled on the subway instead of straining to read from my blackberry. You might, in the end, be right, but I'd miss the FT.

yep. you're right. except the part about getting used to it. who knows how long this modern one is gonna last?

@Casey: those are good points but will be solved by using eink like products that don't use battery at when the text on screen is not changing (see amazon's kindle). and also with foldable displays.

Maybe the awesomest headline I have ever, ever seen. Well done.

I think there's still space in the world for newspapers - but as you said, the dynamic has changed and it's going to have to be a different place than they're used to operating in. It'll have to be more about content and about producing content of a variety people will be willing to pay for - balanced with information that's available for anyone with plenty of ads.

Radio has a few advantages that newspapers don't (drivetime alone, and the ability to be a background medium), but they too are going to have to adjust to survive in an on-demand digital world. TV's in an even better position, but they're also the most bloated business-wise of the three traditional media sources.

Gonna be an interesting couple of years...

Absolutely love your direct comparisons and the first-hand experience. I also like a related perspective shared by @newtgingrich on the Today Show where he compared Twitter to the teletype http://tinyurl.com/chect6 (e.g. the brief Western Union messages that were used to deliver short death announcements of lost soldiers to their families).

Lennie:

Please don't complain about the high cost of the printing press and the carbon-footprint, etc.

Have you looked at the amount of money and infrastructure that is needed to get everyone their own PC and internet connection and the amount of power that is needed to run it all...?

That's nothing to sneeze at.

I'm not saying it's not an improvement, but I would be more careful with your comparison.

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