Newspapers Surprised that Readers Don’t Stay for Crap

Today on, David Sirota points out that while the internet had some effect on the collapse of the newspaper industry, part of it is self-inflicted.

The most preventable tragedy was the deterioration of quality. Downsized local publications were all but forced to rely on more national content, but that content didn’t have to become so vapid.

Good writing on local issues has been replaced with what is essentially wire coverage, meaning what you read gratis in those commuter rags (like metro) is at the heart of what you read in USA Today.

International news desks have downsized, the same story is reprinted everywhere, and there is no nurturing of the journalistic instinct – that inclination has largely migrated to the web, where it’s mixed in with all the blogs, and because it is motivated by interest rather than pay, the information is quite specialized. Of course, there is the problem with verification. Newspapers and journals have (or had) the wherewithal and duty to fact-check, as well as support their intrepid writers. While the web is where the writing has gone, the support hasn’t come along too. But then again, wikipedia is only a click away.

All is not lost, of course, as anyone who has read The Sunday Times can tell you. Some papers still provide the content that made them an institution in the first place. No kindle or free paper or weblog can replace the satisfaction and outright education received from devouring the Sunday Times, though it can certainly supplement the famous supplements.

Quality matters. With conglomeration and the business-ification of media outlets, cheap has become more important than the quality of service provided. It might not be too late to bring back the daring reporters, the dedicated fact-checkers, and the ballsy, loyal editors. Yes, content has gone online. But anyone will tell you they’d prefer to look at a page than a screen for two or three hours on a Sunday. I don’t care how portable the Kindle is – it’s still not a broadsheet.

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