Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The New Media

I was jogging on the treadmill this morning (something about preferring not to run on ice and slush that pushes me indoors in the winter) listening to a podcast of one of my favorite shows (On Point with Tom Ashbrook). The topic was television and new media. I learned that Americans on average watch 151 hrs of television per month. Not just on the television, of course, but through a variety of media: podcast, Hulu, TiVo, etc. I'm a fan of Hulu myself. We watch Battlestar Galactica, SNL and The Office online. Rarely do I watch anything anymore on the actual television screen, mostly just sports and political broadcasts.

The manner in which we get our news and entertainment is fundamentally changing. Newspapers are closing their doors left and right in the US. I was on the receiving end of some criticism recently for my viewing habits, something about ruining the good ol' American newspaper. I read all my news online. I read my hometown paper online rather than buying the print version. That paper is now in bankruptcy court. I readily accept my role in the paper's demise. And to be honest, I have no regrets. There is an evolution going on in media right now. While the content remains largely unchanged, the delivery of that content is the subject of much speculation and negotiation. Print newspapers are going to die. It's as simple as that. Certain family members disagree with that prognosis, but mostly because it's an uncomfortable reality for them. Large regional papers cannot survive when so much of what they print is redundant by the time of its printing (which is, paradoxically, why smaller local papers may survice, because they provide local coverage that local readers can't find anywhere else). Television provides immediate coverage of events and issues. Magazines survive by providing a narrative to these events and behind-the-scenes access to the players. Newspapers trying to find some middle-ground are left with nothing. As the generation of print subscribers dies off, fewer and fewer people are willing to pay for a physical newspaper. And as connectivity improves and news content moves to centralized sites of distribution on the internet, print papers will cease to exist.

The NY Times may survive the longest given its important status. I'm certain that its cultural role will survive, if only in modified form. USA Today, the McPaper of the America press, survives for now based on its non-local coverage and its contracts with the many hotels that distribute it for free to their guests. Already in the last two weeks we have heard that the Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest paper, has folded and that Hearst has put the San Francisco Chronicle on the chopping block. Every newspaper of note has had to build its web presence. Some have tried to charge for access to this web-based content, most notably the NY Times, but none has been able to make that revenue model work for them. It remains to be seen what sort of model will come from this. We can complain all we want about declining international coverage in the news media, but unless it provides revenue what is there to motivate its inclusion?

Ten years ago who could have imagined the ways in which news media would have shifted? We may not have even seen the new new media. My bet is that within ten years the majority of American newspapers will have either closed their doors or migrated online. Any takers?

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