Obituary: the print newspaper

Nathan Zoschke

If you’re reading this, you may be the last of a dying breed.

No, I’m not slamming U-News or my writing, but lamenting the declining relevance of print journalism. People who say newspapers are on their way out appear to be correct, at least in regards to printed dailies. It’s no secret that newspapers are hanging on for dear life. The business is forced to lay off staff amid declining circulation and ad revenue and increasing competition from the Internet. The result is a smaller newspaper with fewer articles and fewer writers and the vicious cycle continuous its furious downward spiral.

I remember picking up The Kansas City Star every morning as a kid. I occasionally read the paper, as did my parents. Eventually, they cancelled their subscription. My father, a staunch conservative, was angered by “the liberal editorial nonsense,” and my mother reasoned that the only use of the paper was as fire kindling. Let me once again clarify that I’m not slamming the Star, but my parents’ distaste for the paper brings up an important point.

The Internet has put both traditional print and broadcast journalism in a precarious position. A market once monopolized by local newspapers has been doused with competition. In a nation where smart phones, laptops and tablet readers have achieved near universality, the business model of daily newspapers feels anachronistic, especially to younger generations. City newspapers like the Star were the primary source of news until radio and television came on, but both lacked the physical presence a newspaper has. My grandparents used to clip articles from the paper. I can now read the news online as it happens, and if I want to save an article, I bookmark it or share it on Facebook. Not only is online news delivered faster, it is also far more cost-effective than print journalism. The expenses of operating a website pale in comparison to the expenses of printing hundreds of thousands of daily newspapers, not to mention the wasted ink and paper. Few take the time to read more than a few articles in a printed newspaper. The rest is fodder for the recycling bin the moment is rolls off the press. From a marketing standpoint, Internet media is a goldmine.

Readers are like buyers in any market, with unique tastes and preferences. Some people only want to read about sports. Others have zero interest in sports. The same can be said for any other news-related topic. An online news outlet specializing in sports or politics has unfettered access to its niche market. The target market of a local newspaper used to be its geographical region, but clearly that is no longer the case. The only way local newspapers are able to remain relevance is by sticking to what they cover best – local news – and forgetting everything else.

For the major players, like New York Times and USA Today, the transition to the Internet has been relatively painless thanks to their prominence and established reputation. For lesser-known small and medium-size city newspapers, the transition online has proven a painful process of downsizing. Although some papers have successfully rebuilt their business model around the Internet, others continue to shrivel and die.

I highly doubt printed dailies will outlive the baby boomer generation, but I remain optimistic that I will still be reading the local newspaper online in whatever city I live in for the rest of my life.

[email protected]