Please indulge me this week while I talk about one of my favorite topics: newspapers. A local business owner recently asked me that question that I get asked so often: “So, what do you think the future of newspapers is?”
I answered him pretty honestly. I told him my biggest concern is that people just aren’t reading news any more.
To that, he replied that he didn’t think that was the problem. He thought the problem was the Internet. People are getting all their news on the Internet instead of newspapers.
Boy, I hear that one a lot.
But let me clear up a few misconceptions.
First of all, “the Internet” isn’t some sort of company somewhere that hires reporters and editors to dig up “news” and just throws it on a website. Could you imagine? “Oh, hi, yes, this is Scott McIntosh, and I’m calling from The Internet to ask you a few questions about the political affiliation of the members of the rebellion in Syria.”
Second, “the news” doesn’t just magically appear. News stories on the Internet actually come from someone who spent time reporting that news, interviewing people, writing down their answers, translating those answers into a coherent news article that then was spell-checked and edited for accuracy and clarity by something called an editor.
Most of the time, the entity that’s supplying that news article you’re reading on the Internet comes from a newspaper. Go ahead and check it out. Pick out a story, any story and look where it came from. Keep in mind that stories from The Associated Press most often originated in a newspaper and were “picked up” by The Associated Press. Further, the majority of the funding for The Associated Press comes from newspapers so any original reporting done by the AP really should be credited to newspapers.
Keep in mind, as well, that many of these online “news” sites, such as Huffington Post really are just “scraping” the news off other sources and rewriting articles based on the reporting already done by newspapers. Keep an eye out for that, too. Look to see when an article states something, then adds, “according to an article in the Washington Post” or “the New York Times.”
OK, so what about my original argument that my biggest concern is that people just don’t read the news anymore, even — or especially — online. My local business owner friend said he gets all of his news from yahoo.com.
So I decided to take a look at newspapers’ competition over at Yahoo. The great thing about the Internet is that it fairly represents the free market, particularly when it comes to news. The top news stories are the top news stories. They’re the stories that people are clicking on. They’re not decided by some boring, elitist guy in a newsroom deciding what he thinks is important. Nope, the Internet reflects what the people want! Power to the people!
OK, so here’s what the people want. I am NOT making this up. These are real, actual headlines on Yahoo on Thursday, March 29:
• Grisly details in teacher’s killing.
• Teen attacks on soccer field (Video!)
• J. Lo rocks a bold neon dress
• $1 million bill for baby’s birth
• 911 caller held in teen’s death
• Aiken admits plastic surgery
• Excited dog greets soldier
• Antiaging items for under $20
• ‘Titanic’ star hotter with age
• Brinkley’s ex fires back
• Barkley’s audacious outfit
• Boy falls asleep on skis
• ‘Idol’ sorry for loopy antics
• ‘Anchorman’ sequel
• Blind man ‘drives’ car
• Kid won’t take off lucky shirt
Did I mention that I am not making this up? Meanwhile, just for comparison’s sake, the Idaho Statesman the next day had stories about the GOP presidential primary, an anti-austerity strike in Spain, an update on the uprising in Syria, Apple supplier vowing to improve workers’ rights in China, the U.S. Supreme Court’s deliberations of the federal health care law, the rise in autism rates, studies showing the link between a pesticide and the decline of bee populations. That’s just the scratching of the surface.
Yes, all of those stories and more are available on the Internet for free.
The fact that those stories — reported by and funded by newspaper companies — are free is only part of the problem.
In my mind, the real problem is that even when they’re put out there for free, the American public, when given a choice, will still click on the story about Clay Aiken admitting to plastic surgery. That, to me, is the real downfall of newspapers.