A ton of noise has been made about the upcoming Newspaper apocalypse. Remember it wasn’t too long ago that there were two Milwaukee papers, though it’s been even longer since Journal Communications didn’t own both of them. I’ve never been too keen on the idea that somehow by definition the Internet meant that newspaper organizations were going to cease production, and pack it in.
I will agree that most of them, JS Online withstanding, seem to do little more than attempt to plop up the daily content with cheaper advertising, making sure that whatever audience the paper has online, it’s generating much less income. That problem may be unavoidable, as CPM on the web is far cheaper than it was in print. So what is it that will help Newspapers prove their audience and content valuable enough to garner the revenue needed to support real journalism?
I can tell you that it has to do with more content, varied and well researched. Their competing side by side with sites that simply hires 20 or 30 college kids to churn out commentary all day. **ahem**
What doesn’t help newspapers is continuing to lament their fate like a Woody Allen protagonist in the second act. Gene Weingarten from the Washing Post talks about how he preferred journalism when it was written in a familiar way. A J. Jonah Jameson style editor towering over reporters tapping away wildly to meet deadlines. The bulk of his wrath is for Internet commenters. The controversy over comments isn’t limited to newspapers; any site you go to with commenters has its fair share of people looking to simply stir up arguments. If you thought that politics was bad you should head to Endgadget when something Apple is in the news.
Weingarten is missing some key points; the whole reason that people like reading news online is the mixture of idiocy and engagement that most comment sections boil down to. Slashdot has a metagame, and Digg has digging up or down, and some sites wield a very touchy ban hammer. There are already ways for the web to deal with trolls and the other problems, though Engadget has turned off comments and prominent Apple blogger John Gruber doesn’t allow comments at all.
Weingarten’s comments aren’t all wrong. He cites the fact that headlines on the web are all made for SEO (search engine optimization) so they lack the wit and inventiveness of the classic newspaper headlines. He cites a few examples of his own, where the print headline was far more creative than the web version of his column.
Like it or not, online news is here to stay. I just hope to see more professional journalists realize that they can’t simply apply new rules to an existing medium. Commenters are stupid but they’re a reality, and Engadget has brought back comments. There are several ways to get Daring Fireball with comments, so it seems that the audience wants to be heard. I just hope newspapers are listening.