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The luxury of print.

On the last day of February--before I began writing this column--word started oozing out onto the internet that the newspaper where I used to work was shrinking the newsroom by another 10% (jimromenesko.com/2014/02/28/ report-tampa-bay-times-to-cut10-of-newsroom-staff). According to various sources, the copy desk was targeted to bear the brunt of the job cuts. Generally speaking, this means shoving a lot of "institutional knowledge" out the door. From a practical standpoint, it is predictive of even more errors in both the print and online products.

Having been a reporter and then, later, a news researcher, I always loved traditional print journalism. But I painfully came to the conclusion a few years ago that my personal future there was too precarious to ignore. To be blunt about it, I am not independently wealthy, and "going down with the ship" was not a viable career option. So I bailed ... and now, seeing that my former employer is facing even greater financial problems, I feel professionally vindicated. But I also feel sad.

The Trouble With Print

The newspaper industry has been struggling for years now to come to terms with the internet. With a few notable exceptions, newspapers have not been able to figure out how to make money online. Commercial advertising sales on websites are tricky--the rates are much, much lower--and craigslist has cannibalized the traditional classified advertising sector. Meanwhile, for a daily newspaper, if you're not The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, a paywall is not a winning strategy.

Just this past week, I read an item describing how the Orlando Sentinel suddenly dismissed all its photographers and is requiring them to reapply for their jobs (poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/241477/ orlando-sentinel-photographers-mustreapply-for-jobs). Hiring preference apparently will be given to those who can shoot video. Well, I don't know about you, but I seldom watch videos on newspaper websites. Usually, I'm there for quick info--to scan an article and move on. I don't have time to sit and watch videos during the workday. On the other hand, if Tm there to read an article and happen to spot a lovely photo ... well, that's a bonus.

But that's just me. And I realize that I am outside the mainstream; I still subscribe to a daily dead-tree newspaper {The Washington Post). Granted, I often do not have time to read the entire paper every day, but not having a newspaper to peruse each morning as I eat breakfast would be a drastic lifestyle change for me--and not for the better.

Amazon Enters the Picture

The Post was purchased last year by Jeffrey Bezos, Mr. Amazon. Note that this was not an Amazon acquisition; this was a purchase by the man his own self. From what I gather, he likes journalism ... and wants the challenge of trying to make money in a struggling industry. He told a Post reporter (washingtonpost .com/lifestyle/style/jeffrey-bezoswashington-posts-next-owner-aims- for-a-new-golden-era-at-the-news paper/2013/09/02/30c00b60- 13fB-11 e3-bl82-lb3bb2eb474c_story.html): "The product of The Post is still great. The piece that's missing is that it's a challenged business. No business can continue to shrink. That can only go on for so long before irrelevancy sets in.... I've been told, 'Jeff, you're fooling yourself; the problem is unsolvable.' But I don't think so. It just takes a lot of time, patience and experimentation."

Meanwhile, in a February New Yorker article, George Packer more or less accuses Amazon of single-handedly destroying the market for quality literature via unrelenting financial pressure on the traditional publishing industry (newyorker.com/reporting/2014/02/17/140217fa_fact_packer).

To many book professionals, Amazon is a ruthless predator. The company claims to want a more literate world--and it came along when the book world was in distress, offering a vital new source of sales. But then it started asking a lot of personal questions, and it created dependency and harshly exploited its leverage; eventually, the book world realized that Amazon had its house keys and its bank account number, and it wondered if that had been the intention all along.

Well, consider this: If there were no Amazon, ebooks would never have risen to their current level of popularity so quickly. According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 3 in 10 Americans read at least one ebook in 2013, and half own a tablet or e-reader (pewinternet.org/2014/01/16/ e-reading-rises-as-device-owner ship-jumps).

What's to Come?

But how many times have you heard someone say that she vastly prefers reading dead-tree books rather than ebooks? The thing is, it was never an either/or situation. According to Pew, "Though e-books are rising in popularity, print remains the foundation of Americans' reading habits. Most people who read e-books also read print books, and just 4% of readers are 'e-book only.'"

As with newspapers, I have always loved dead-tree books--the feel of them, the smell of them--but I am acquiring far fewer at this stage of my life. For one thing, I live in a much smaller space. For another, ebooks are light years more convenient because they are so portable--on a Kindle, a NOOK, an iPad, or even a smartphone, if your eyes can handle it. You can take a whole "stack" of books on vacation without the added weight. And you can buy an ebook anywhere you are able to get online, or you can borrow one for free via your local library and OverDrive.

In his article, Packer uses the term "content" derisively, and he pretty much blames Amazon for the fact that the traditional publishing industry is circling the drain. (But one thing he clearly does not understand is the contemporary library profession; he says librarians are "fading out," along with professional book reviewers and "bookshop owners.")

Packer says of Bezos' purchase of the Post: "[T]he challenge is to turn around a money-losing enterprise in a damaged industry, and perhaps to show a way for newspapers to thrive again."

As someone who's had a lifelong love affair with journalism, I'd love to see some good ideas for reviving newspapers. However, journalism costs money. Good journalism costs lots of money. We're now in a period where we're seeing an increasing number of "born-digital" news organizations and/or news nonprofits. It's a logical way of addressing the fact that people have stopped subscribing to dead-tree newspapers mainly because so much of the "content" is available online for free--and it's available faster.

Paper, ink, printing plants, delivery trucks, physical newsrooms, and bureaus--overhead. Expensive. My dead-tree daily newspaper has become a luxury item.

Shirley Duglin Kennedy is the web content strategist for the Center for Deployment Psychology in North Bethesda, Md., and editor, with Gary Price, of the blogs Full Text Reports ... and INFOdocket. Send your comments about this column to itletters@infotoday.com.
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Title Annotation:INTERNET WAVES; trends in newspaper publishing
Author:Kennedy, Shirley Duglin
Publication:Information Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2014
Words:1132
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