Kinsley: Are Newspapers Black and White and Dead All Over?

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By: E&P Staff

In his Saturday column for The Washington Post, Michael Kinsley, who has edited both print (Harper’s) and online publications (Slate), explores worries about the end of newspapers.

The pungent, sometimes poignant, piece naturally has the heading, “Black and White and Dead All Over.”

After recounting threats to newspapers, going back to the rise of Web journalism a decade ago, he concludes this way.

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Ten years later, newspapers are starting to panic again. But merely slobbering after bloggers may not be enough. In 1996 the oldest Americans who grew up with computers and don’t even understand my tiresome anecdotes about how people used to resist them (“What’s a typewriter, Mike?”) were just entering adulthood. Now they are most of the working population, or close to it.

The trouble even an established customer will take to obtain a newspaper continues to shrink, as well. Once, I would drive across town if necessary. Today, I open the front door and if the paper isn’t within about 10 feet I retreat to my computer and read it online. Only six months ago, that figure was 20 feet. Extrapolating, they will have to bring it to me in bed by the end of the year and read it to me out loud by the second quarter of 2007.

No one knows how all this will play out. But it is hard to believe that there will be room in the economy for delivering news by the Rube Goldberg process described above. That doesn’t mean newspapers are toast. After all, they’ve got the brand names. You gotta trust something called the “Post-Intelligencer” more than something called “Yahoo” or “Google,” don’t you? No, seriously, don’t you? Okay, how old did you say you are?

And newspapers have got the content. The first time I heard myself called a “content provider,” I felt like a guy who’d been hired by the company that makes Tupperware to make sure there was plenty of Jello salad. As a rule, anyone who uses the term content provider without a smirk needs to consider getting content from someone else.

There is even hope for newspapers in the very absurdity of their current methods of production and distribution. What customers pay for a newspaper doesn’t cover the cost of the paper, let alone the attendant folderol. Without these costs, even zero revenue from customers would be a good deal for newspapers, if advertisers go along. Which they might. Maybe. Don’t you think? Please?

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