News and Newspapers

I read the Washington Post online every morning over coffee- or at least I did before they instituted a ridiculously expensive paywall. Now I scan the headlines on the Home page and occasionally look at an article if I haven’t reached my monthly limit of 20 free reads, which is better than the Times which now offers 10 free reads. I understand why they are doing this- they are businesses and need to make money. But there are big problems with news in general.

[Note: The local paper I’m referencing is the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle]

The only places I read print newspapers are in my local diner, Jim’s #2, and at my mom’s where she still gets the local daily. And they are in extremely bad shape. Even the Sunday paper takes a total of five minutes to read everything local. I don’t read the national news there because it’s all from wire services and I’ve inevitably already seen these stories online.

Print ads in the local paper are perhaps the saddest and strangest thing about them. What kind of businesses still think advertising in these things is worth the high rates? Car dealers obviously, but no one I know looks at dealer ads in the paper. They go online and ask their friends to refer a model and sales rep. Without those ads though, we won’t have a daily paper here. That’s a very disconcerting thing.

The local paper has a website, an awful one that is difficult to navigate and that crashes repeatedly on my iPad, which is where I want to consume my news. They take short articles and break them up into multiple pages unnecessarily. Why? To generate more page views, which theoretically increases their ad revenue, though that model is not fooling the big ad buyers anymore. So it just annoys the readers. Even sadder, if the print version dies, the online version probably dies too because the ads there make much less money that those full page car ads and the local reporting infrastructure won’t be sustainable.

There is nothing here that is news to the journalism business. Yesterday Jeff Bezos of Amazon bought the Post for $250 million in cash, a fraction of its value even a few years ago. He is the eleventh richest person on the planet, so this is pocket change but he also has a reputation for long term thinking and innovation. The Post is not only a national paper, it is also a local paper, the only one, in the DC area. I wonder if he can crack the code for keeping local news available on top of a national platform? And then extend it to cities like Rochester who will not have a local news source that isn’t on air (and as such limited in its scope).

People still avidly follow local stories. They talk about them and I seldom find friends who haven’t somehow got the word on new stuff. But where do they get it? From links posted on Facebook. And a lot of those links are not to the local paper site, but come from blogs, tumblrs, Tweets (which I hate- I won’t click on shortened links without an idea where they will take me) and various other sites. Facebook is local news these days. That’s a whole other discussion.

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