2009-03-06

Unfit to print...?

We coyotes like news papers. Probably due to puppyhood training, about which the less said in polite company, the better. So when the vivacious Jo S. began a thread on the health of the media, many, including your faithful/unreliable reporter/narrator, had things to say. I had a lot. You may safely surmise that I have not finished sucking my paws and, ummm, pawndering. And I'm not the only one. Just the only coyote...

Current world economic woes are not themselves killing newspapers and legacy electronic media. They've exposed pre-existing rot. Newspapers were a disruptive technology for their time, an artifact of (mostly) the 19th century, freshened for the 20th by the advent of giant, costly, high-speed presses. These allowed papers to meet radio, then TV, pretty much head-on, even as pundits forecast the end of hard copy.

But papers' attempts to compete with later media on their (newer) terms have lost subtle ground with each new disruption, and the Net changes the game totally. In developed societies, it's faster, more accessible and scalable than its ancestors, and cheaper for content makers. The computers we pay for download many of their distribution costs - legacy media need printing presses, delivery trucks, transmitters - right onto our desks.

And the Net's tuned to the ADD nanosecond. Why write, edit, publish and distribute articles about Paris' latest deep thinkage or Britney's wardrobe malfunctions when they can be fully, ummm, exposed in 140-character Tweets? The Craigslists and Kijijis efficiently nabbed the papers' classified lifeblood from under publishers' noses. Topping it all, media outlets began more than a decade ago to throw up content on the Net - often badly, always for free - hoping to somehow gain beachheads there until they somehow figured out how to make a buck from it. They never really did.

Newspaper presses used to pretty much print money for their owners. The Thomsons, Blacks and Aspers of Canada, and the Hearsts and Knights and Murdochs of the world, got into the business because profits were so amazingly fat. But rather than improving the product when faced with competition or adversity, they too often acted to protect profit margins with chiselling economies that made newspapers less enjoyable and more irrelevant. And unhealthy.

Oh, the Petfinder's former editor in chief tried to regain hip cred by hanging major news stories on movie and comic book leads - complete with movie publicity stills instead of, like, actual news photos. Maybe he could have thought the other way around, instead of trivializing his content. Now the paper's latest owner, Canwest-Global, tries to economize by half-gutting local newsrooms to centralize its newspaper chain's content, inappropriately like the network feed for its TV stations.

These band aids and others do not play to the strength of a good paper, which is to reflect and record local thoughts and events and people. Placing them well within in their larger regional, national and global contexts, yes, but with the aim of really good local coverage. People trying to understand themselves, and their place in the world, are constant. I think.

I'm not saying that that newspapers need to be all serious. There's plenty of room for playful print. But there should be room for context and analysis too. And maybe they could back off a little from brain-dead takes on LiLo and Amy W. That's what the Net is for.

5 comments:

Manny Blue said...

Good to read this as I run off to grab a Saturday paper at my local corner store.

Lily said...

I'm disgusted by the papers these days. They've given up and don't even try anymore. They suck! I still buy a paper on the weekend, but every weekend, I finish reading it and think to myself that for the same 2 to 3 bucks I could've treated myself to a latte. How can papers compete? By actually providing content, coverage, depth, investigation. By doing their jobs!

coyote said...

No argument here, ma'am. And they actually still do some of that.

I just wish they'd stop disingenuously flogging conservative bias in favour of the types of actual information you mention.

I switched to the Globe and Mail when I realized its news stance was more neutral than the Petfinder's had become... which still just seems weird to me.

nursemyra said...

Reading the newspaper on a saturday morning is one of my favourite rituals. The Sydney Morning Herald is enormous on a Saturday - it has about 12 separate lift-out parts to it. I wish I could just buy the sections I'm interested in and leave Sport, Cars and that depressing Money Market bit behind

coyote said...

Modular marketing, for a slight extra fee. There's a niche!