Technology Bits: Print Newspapers in Trouble, Online News Sites Not Far Behind

Technology Bits

The news business is struggling, no matter whether in print or online. That’s the conclusion to be drawn from a couple of recent articles in USA Today.

“College papers cut back on print”

Thus reads the headline of a USA Today story by Roger Yu. Here’s some background:

In 2011, the University of Georgia’s Red & Black became one of the first U.S. college papers to cut back on print publication from daily to weekly. It was followed by other large schools, including the University of Oregon and Arizona State University. The pace of change has picked up in recent months, with several others announcing plans to retreat from print, including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Utah, University of Richmond, Franklin & Marshall College and Florida A&M University. Some are going online entirely while others are switching from daily to weekly.

But now, Yu reports, even Columbia University is dropping its daily:

Last week, student journalists at Columbia University, home to one of the nation’s most prominent graduate journalism programs, revealed that the school’s 137-year old paper, the Columbia Daily Spectator, will become a weekly this fall. Columbia will become the first Ivy League school to abandon the daily newspaper tradition that launched many a media career.

We might be inclined to think that print papers are struggling because everyone is reading news online. But then comes another USA Today story.

“Publishers as beggars”

So proclaims columnist Michael Wolff in USA Today. What is his evidence? A recent fund-raising letter from Wolff’s friend, Jacob Weisberg, editor in chief of Slate Magazine. Weisberg is asking friends to contribute financially to Slate, one of the oldest and most respected online news sources. Apparently, Slate‘s effort to publish well-written and researched news stories, as opposed to more amateurish and low-brow stuff, is not working financially. Wolff concludes:

There remains a grit-their-teeth belief among high-end publishers that there will be a way to become self-sustaining and even figure out a growth model in the digital world, that it is a process of experimentation and that, even after 17 years or so, the Internet is still young, that if the audience is here, advertising — profitable advertising — must eventually follow. And subscriptions. And premium memberships. And… and…

But, too, maybe the experiment proves that print was better.

Or, maybe people just aren’t as interested in serious news, whether in printed college newspapers or at high-brow websites. In a postmodern world, who can really say what news is, or what good writing is, or why it matters. Give me entertainment, any day.


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