One could quibble with Andrew Sullivan’s facts and figures and even his prediction that newspapers will nearly vanish from your hands while you’re reading their pages, but he’s got the trend line and the economic riddle mostly right, I think:
To give my own example: I started blogging eight years ago. My once quirky blog, born in time to cover the 2000 election campaign, has steadily grown in traffic over the years, but this year, with the election campaign and a media revolution, it went into the stratosphere. In October last year my blog got 3.5m page views; in October this year it had 23m page views. The story of the campaign, in other words, did find a readership (and page views of big online papers soared as well). The growth just didn’t occur in newsprint, and the next generation of readers – those now under 30 – barely knows what a newspaper is.
Now compare my little bog’s traffic with The Baltimore Sun, a big metropolitan paper with a long history and great reputation, featured most recently in the HBO series The Wire. It had 17.5m page views in October; The Dallas Morning News got 12m; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution got 14m. The operation largely run out of my spare room reached many more online readers than some of the biggest and most loss-making papers in the country. The economics are remorseless: as news goes online, the economic model for papers cannot survive. If advertising follows page views, the game will shortly be over.
I don’t expect print as a medium to vanish, but it certainly won’t be as we know it today. Sullivan’s right: Newspapers as we have known them may soon be done for, but newspapers will survive in one form or another and journalism will thrive.
I’m eternally optimistic that journalism has an adaptability and malleability that transcends a media. There will be a market for watchdog journalism, for hard news coverage, for local news, for hyperlocal news, for national news, for world reports, for useful information, for opinion and analysis, and to be entertained by talented journalists.
The void left by the demise of economically weak brand-name newspapers and the shrinking of newspaper and TV newsrooms will be filled. Lament the good old days if you want, but evolve we must.