How To Save Print Media

What’s Black And White And Kill Me Now

Maybe newspapers should have done anything other than the thing they did that taught people to stop reading them.

A young newspaper reader. Photo: Nicolas Alejandro

If you follow media Twitter, you need someone in your life to stage an intervention. Seriously, no matter who you are or what you’ve done there is surely still a person you know who has enough sympathy — even if it is at the basic level of “as a fellow human being” — left in her heart for you that she will gather together a couple of people to tell you just how badly you are hurting yourself and others with this sick, repulsive obsession. I don’t know what dark and shameful thing happened in your past that you feel like you’re so disgusting and deserving of punishment that you will inflict a steady stream of self-importance and gross careerism (plus smarmy “insider” takes that are comical for their obviousness — and the pathetic desperation behind them), but no one should ever hate themselves so much that they put themselves through such unjustifiable abuse. You are a child of God, and all God’s children are beautiful in one way or another. None of them should be subjected to such horror.

In any event, that was not the point I originally meant to make when I started that sentence. What I was going to say was if you follow media Twitter, you will have seen, today, a debate about this piece by Politico media curmudgeon Jack Shafer.

What If the Newspaper Industry Made a Colossal Mistake?

Citing a recent study, Shafer suggests that the newspaper industry “should have stuck with its strengths — the print editions where the vast majority of their readers still reside and where the overwhelming majority of advertising and subscription revenue come from — instead of chasing the online chimera.” Shockingly, media types — who usually refrain from airing their opinions until they have spent several days digesting the arguments and coming up with considered responses — disagreed.

Shafer’s riposte was as such:

Others entered the fray.

Fingers were pointed.

Hinds were sighted.

But the discussion was not fully resolved.

What is the lesson to be drawn here? Is there any lesson at all? Is the suggestion that newspaper companies would be better off treating their print editions as a resource worthy of respect (and remuneration) rather than deeply devaluing their product by turning it into poorly-designed ad-heavy garbage that even the most desperate reader is unlikely to click on simply a case of closing the barn door after the horse has left the stable, the barn has burned down, and the farmer next to you has built a bigger, shinier stable with cheaper, dumber horses that more people want to ride because they don’t understand how they’re paying for the horse, plus the barn is actually a big scam that the farmer next to you is using to disguise the fact that he’s really running an advertising business and his stable is just a magnet for easily-amused yahoos who will happily hop on his stupid, shiny horses because it’s so much more fun than struggling with the more challenging (but ultimately more rewarding) horse that ran out of your barn? (If you know what I mean.) It is impossible to say! But if we look at the newspapers who are doing it right in this new world, it seems clear that there are certain things even the loftiest of organizations can do to create value online.

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Now where was I again? Right, avoid media.