I attended this IU networking event last week and found it interesting on many levels. I am not an lawyer (over 50% of that night’s attendees I am guessing) or a journalist, so I was probably one of the few sales and marketing people in attendance that night, which gave me a bit of a different perspective on the whole evening.
From talking to some of the journalists in attendance that night, it’s clear that there’s a lot of fear in the journalism community, and for good reason. What I heard from attendees and the speakers that night is that the future is uncertain, there have been brutal cutbacks in newsrooms for years now and advertising money is slipping away because of the economy.
But I really think that this state of affairs is not driven by bad economic times. The recession has merely sped up the inevitable. Print journalism is in decline, period, and will be all but dead in the next generation or so, especially newspapers.
The speakers were correct that night when they said that it’s darn near impossible to make people start paying for news online when it’s been free all along. We can give examples of exceptions to this rule, namely the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, to point out that stellar journalism can bring subscribers. And these were two examples that were trotted out on a handful of occasions that night. But what other newspapers can we actually name besides these two?
So, what’s really happening from the perspective of an average citizen who happens to not be a journalist? I think I am a pretty good example of the trend. I am 42 years old. I have not subscribed to a daily newspaper since my last subscription to the Indiana Daily Student in 1990.
I get my news from the internet and free sources on my Blackberry, and I occasionally watch the local news on TV at night. I get neighborhood updates by following my alderman on Twitter. I follow news on my congressmen on Facebook. When I am at CVS and see the Sunday (Chicago) Trib, my first thought is “Wow! What a waste of paper.”
How many newspapers do you see lying around the el on the way downtown? In 1992, I used to see a lot of that every day on my way to work. Now? Not so much. How many 20 and 30 year old people do you see with a paper tucked under their arm on the way downtown? Any?
I gave all of these thoughts to two very nice journalists after the talk that night, and I could tell it was uncomfortable to hear, but they agreed it was true. The panelists that night were great, but I wanted them to speak more about the new generation of news consumers (those under 40) and what can be done to get them to pay in the digital arena. They hit on this a wee bit, but kept concentrating too much on how print will survive.
Since I am not in journalism, I don’t have the answers, but I kept thinking “why aren’t they even mentioning the Kindle and the iPad?” To me, it seems like that might be the daily paper’s saving grace in the near future. Buy a subscription and get your daily “paper” delivered right to your Kindle every day, just like the good old fashioned daily paper we used to know and love. And insert all the advertisements to help subsidize it, just like in the past. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are doing it. How’s it going for them? Now that’s what I would have liked to hear more about from the speakers that night.
Now, you may be wondering – do I have a Kindle? No, I do not – yet. But I will when they make them more durable and less expensive. And believe me, they will.
And maybe then I will actually subscribe again to a daily newspaper after a 20 year lapse.