As a companion piece to my post a few days ago regarding Christiane Amanpour’s remarks about blogging, have a look at Andrew Sullivan’s latest column for The Times Online. Lot’s of interesting statistics:
Between March and September the 500 biggest newspapers in America reported an average circulation decline of 4.6%. In six months. That’s close to a 10% decline per year. No newspapers showed any but fractional gains. It is therefore a near-certainty that many towns and cities in America will no longer have a newspaper after the down-turn. And that may apply not just to small names but to some big ones as well. The Los Angeles Times, for example, has gone from a circulation of 1.1m to 739,000 since the turn of the millennium. Its staff has been halved. Morale has never been lower.
Landmark names – the news equivalent of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford – are increasingly on the chopping block. The Chicago Tribune has seen its weekday circulation collapse by 8% in the past year. The Gannett company, which owns scores of papers, has announced a 10% cut in staff after a 5% reduction earlier this year. The Christian Science Monitor has gone from a daily to a website with a weekly print edition. The Rocky Mountain News is for sale. The profit margins of even the most established papers, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, are so slim, the future looks extremely dodgy. Some analysts are even predicting that The New York Times will go belly up by the spring.
Print newspapers are rapidly becoming the exclusive domains of doctor’s office waiting rooms and lengthy train rides. To a certain degree this is not so terrible. Newsprint was never an especially good way of transmitting information. Reading things on a computer or a Kindle seems far more pleasant. If it were just a matter of an antiquated delivery system giving way to better technology then there would be little to remark upon.
The trouble, as Sullivan notes, is internet advertising is not yet at the level it needs to be to make up for losses from the print version of the paper. This makes for a bleak economic forecast for newspapers of all sizes.
It is sometimes said that blogging will replace traditional journalism. But this is perfectly absurd, as Sullivan points out:
The terrifying problem is that a one-man blog cannot begin to do the necessary labour-intensive, skilled reporting that a good newspaper sponsors and pioneers. A world in which reporting becomes even more minimal and opinion gets even more vacuous and unending is not a healthy one for a democracy. Perhaps private philanthropists will step in and finance not-for-profit journalistic centres, where investigative and foreign reporting can be invested in and disseminated by blogs and online sites. Maybe reporter-bloggers will start rivalling opinion-mongers such as me and give the whole enterprise some substance. Maybe papers can slim down sufficiently to produce a luxury print issue and a viable online product. There’s always a hunger for news, after all.
Indeed. Most blogs are parasitic on old media. In fact, one of the main functions of blogs is to direct people towards interesting material they might have overlooked. There is very little original journalism to be found among blogs.