Monday, December 29, 2008

Our crappy newspapers

Over the holidays, family members one generation older than me were worried about the impending implosion of print media in this country, largely spurred by reports that the New York Times was having problems, as are pretty much all papers around the country. Circulation is down, revenue is down, etc. etc. The root cause of this doesn't appear to be Americans' lack of interest in getting the news, but rather that there are so many other sources for news. Couple this to the inability of print newspapers to figure out how to adapt to the internet, and that's why there're all in trouble. Indeed, as Matt Yglesias pointed out, let's not give them a free pass on the latter:
Four — the clearest thing management could have done better was to recognize earlier what business they were in. In particular, letting the online classified market slip away was a preventable error. Everyone might be posting their free classified on had someone really smart come up with that idea. The pageviews involved would have been a huge additional asset to the website and it would have been one newspaper undercutting the competition rather than all newspapers being undercut by a guy named Craig.

Further, let's not pretend that newspapers are doing a terribly good job of reporting the news. Most newspaper stories don't tell you anything but just fill up space. For example, here's a story from today's Washington Post with the intriguing headline "Webb Sets His Sights on Prison Reform." Read this story and try to find one detail of what Webb is proposing, or a piece of analysis, or anything. 90% of the story is Webb's biography, which could have been attached to a story about Senator Webb taking a dump.