Whether you get your news on a printed page or over the Internet, it's hard to miss all the hand-wringing over the future of newspapers.
A TIME magazine cover story"How to Save Your Newspaper" by Walter Isaacson is drawn from lectures he is giving, beginning at the University of California - Riverside this week.
After some initial reluctance back in the day, most newspapers today provide a wealth of timely reporting and other substantive content on-line -- free of charge. It's an attractive way to consume the news. Why wait for the next day's paper when you can get news on any subject on-line now? And why pay for a subscription when you can read most columnists, editorials, etc. for free on-line? And why restrict yourself to your local newspaper when you can get news from any locale on-line?
If you have a wireless router in your home, you can take in the morning news out on your porch or deck on your laptop and get caught up quickly on whatever you want to read while you sip your morning coffee or afternoon lemon-aide.
But world-class reporting and writing is by no means free. So where is the business case for on-line news as subscriptions for printed papers dwindle and ad revenues dry up?
Up until the Sept. 15 default of Lehman Brothers kicked off a severe recession, news organizations could recover a decent amount of revenue in on-line advertising. The Internet model was to provide content for free, build a huge audience and sell ad space in crawlers and pop-ups. But that seems so 1999 today. The bubble has burst.
The question is will people pay something (anything!) to subscribe to online services of top news organizations -- like the New York Times, Washington Post and maybe your local newspaper? It's worked for the Wall Street Journal and a few others, mostly financial sites like Barron's and Motley Fool, who have successfully protected a unique space well enough to charge for it. But will enough news consumers opt to pay for quality reporting to keep the premier news organizations afloat -- or will they die off and leave us with only Yahoo! news and MSN? And if we're only left with news aggregators, what news will they aggregate? Are you ready to turn over the Fourth Estate to bloggers, aka citizen journalists? I'm all for cit j's to supplement the news, but I still want an aggressive, knowledgable and experienced media pool doing most of the heavy lifting.
The key will be for each news provider to demonstrate unique value that consumers will be willing to pay, at least a nominal amount, to read.
But won't we lose something vital if there no longer is a printed newspaper we can touch and feel?
- Jon Harmon