Newspapers WILL live, SHOULD live. Online Content can’t beat it, yet.

September 28, 2009 at 10:50 pm Leave a comment

In the Newsweek-hosted blog Techtonic Shifts, writer Daniel Lyons opines with great enthusiasm that the United States should not only let the newspaper industry die, “we should be hastening their demise,” as if it were the porn industry (which he references later as an industry we should support).

Lyons is referring to the Newspaper Revitalization Act of 2009, a bill proposed by Benjamin Cardin of Maryland that would allow certain tax breaks to newspapers. Lyons calls it a “bailout” the likes of which were doled out to GM, AIG, and others. Hardly a bailout, the Newspaper Revitalization Act could certainly help save an industry that has provided both service and jobs for millions of Americans. But I am not writing to argue this bill. It’s Lyons’s “reporting” that has me writing late into the night, sweat dripping into the keyboard as I type.

First, that Lyons so enthusiastically encourages the death of an industry simply amazes me. And that he does so to an industry that is so large – more than $30 Billion – is astounding. Mind-boggling is that Lyons fully expects the online news industry to step in and bat for the dying print version. In 2008, the newspaper industry lost more revenue than the online sector recorded.

He’s not wrong all the time. The “bailout” – as Lyons calls it – would only benefit a “handful of big news companies.” Were it an actual bailout, that might be true. It’s not a bailout, but I’ll give him that one.

Lyons also correctly points that the real customer of the newspaper industry is and has been the advertiser. True. But the “advertiser” that made newspapers so much money was buyer of Classified Ads. That was you, me, your Mom and Uncle Harry trying to sell his old tool collection.

The heart of Lyons’s thesis here, however, is so misleading and errant as to paint him as either an incompetent journalist or simply a sensational entertainer on the likes of Rush Limbaugh. Lyons boasts that “new companies with names like Politico and Huffington Post and The Daily Beast and Gawker are beating newspapers at their own game.” He says these “new guys” are faster and better. And the “old guys” (newspapers) should consider buying up the new guys.

Follow closely here while I look at this like a journalist. I’ll try to do it quickly because I may die before I finish.

Politico.com (full disclosure, I enjoy this site) has been financed for the majority of its short life by rich guy Robert Allbritton , but it still makes good money off of a Politico print edition, plus two other print papers. Strike One against online news salvation.

The history of the revenues of HuffingtonPost.com is questionable; try searching it yourself on google. The fact, however, is it is funded in good part by celeb talking-head Arianna Huffington. Most importantly, for Lyons reference that this should be a new journalism model, HuffPo does not, has not, paid its blogging contributors. Strike Two.

Lyons also references The Daily Beast. It’s not profitable either, but it is a partner journal of Newsweek, so that’s a nice family plug for a questionable news aggregator. Foul Ball.

His final reference shocked me more than the others. Lyons cites Gawker.com as a new company the news world should emulate. Gawker hosts several websites, most of which are filled with mindless trash, and some of which direct viewers to Fleshbot.com, a money-making porn site. There’s an industry for the future. Didn’t that industry ask for bailout money, too? Strike Three. Lyons, you’re out – of bounds.

He does get another one right when he says “nobody has yet figured out how to make loads of money delivering news over the Internet.” True. He adds, however, the reason for this is “too many old newspaper companies” … are “sucking up money that Internet companies could put to better use.” I guess he missed those statistics pointing to the newspaper industry losing billions of dollars, little if any of which seems to be going to Internet news companies.

His last correct statement – “weak papers need to die” – should have come earlier. And it should have included any weak businesses, like the horse-and-buggy industry he jokingly refers to at the start. But to add insult and state that “strong newspapers need to go into bankruptcy” to form leaner and more efficient companies that would actually employ and pay newspaper journalists is simply ridiculous.

Yes, I’m an old print guy myself, still writing for print magazines when I can. And I believe Lyons has done the same, though not really sure because this is the guy who hid his professional existence behind the Fake Steve Jobs blog for a year or more.

I still look forward to collecting my LA Times off the driveway each morning. For about $30 per year I get World News, Local News, Sports, and Business, plus a Crossword Puzzle and a Sudoku. No, it’s not my only news source. My Google Reader reminds me daily of several hundred stories I need to get through. And I do my best to read them, though I feel guilty that I’m reading them for free. I know it won’t last – let’s just hope I have more choice than Gawker.com can provide.

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Entry filed under: Communications, journalism, Social Media, Writing.

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