Saturday, February 17, 2007

From paper to monitors...

This month, the world's oldest newspaper, Sweden's Post-och Inrikes Tidningar, ceased to exist in print form and went purely online. The AP article points out that this "fate" is one "many ink-stained writers and readers fear... may await many of the world's most venerable journals."

The Post-och Inrikes Tidningar was by no means a moneymaker. It had a measly circulation of around 1,000, and the current editor Olov Vikstrom believes the web edition will attract a larger audience. It's probably true.

But Hans Holm, who had served as chief editor of the Post-och Inrikes Tidningar for 20 years, called this phenomenon a "cultural disaster": "It is sad when you have worked with it for so long and it has been around for so long."

And yes, I understand how he could feel that way. The man has been working on this publication for just about as long as I've been alive. And I'm pretty darned attached to the fact that I exist.

But on the other side of the Atlantic... we've got people like Arthur Sulzberger, owner, chairman and publisher of celebrated U.S. newspaper The New York Times, who, according to this Haaretz article, said: "I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care either."

It's obvious Sulzberger comes from the land of "Let's talk money." Sulzberger says the Times' goal is to lead in the transition from print to web. From what the article says, I get the feeling that Sulzberger has some regard for news content and its role in society. Yet, the business end of things is number 1.

The NYT website has 1.5 million readers a day, in addition to its circulation of 1.1 million. But the difference is...

average age of newspaper reader = 42
average age of website reader = 37

And Sulzberger understands that this statistic is a direct indicator of the future of news on the Internet. He made the point that "the newspaper is not the focal point of city life as it was 10 years ago... Once upon a time, people had to read the paper to find out what was going on in theater. Today there are hundreds of forums and sites with that information."

The man's got a point. And as sad as I think it would be to see newspapers go out of existence, that's the direction in which our society's desire for easier-faster-cheaper has led us. Unless business and journalism can be separated, I don't think newspapers in print form will exist in 50 years. And let's just hope that the desire for convenience doesn't have us traveling down the road that results in one huge worldwide computer crash. 'Cause we all know what that feels like... to lose all your information... and it's not good.



At Sunday, February 18, 2007, Anonymous LA said...

Hmmm, maybe I'm the eternal optimist (or just because I like my crosswords to be ink-smudged), but I think that even if news is completely online in the next 50 years, there will still be some newspapers printed (they may cost a lot more), but they'll be designed for that niche market of people who will still pay for their print papers.

It is startling and sad that the world's oldest paper is now only online! But - on the other hand- it isn't completely defunct. And I could see someone coming in 5 years down the road and revitalizing part of the print form - to appeal to those who would pay for the world's oldest newspaper in print.

At Sunday, February 18, 2007, Anonymous TD said...

Even though I really enjoy reading a physical newspaper, I find that all too often most of my newspapers end up in a pile in my apartment, still in their packaging because like so many others I have no time to sit and read them! And when I do have the time to read the paper on the train, I just end up making a huge mess, papers flying everywhere. I do think that papers need to reinvent themselves, but I'm not sure that going purely online is the answer.

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