Warning: not about sports.
The media and its current direction is a semi-frequent topic of discussion around these parts, so this is worth mentioning:
The News and Free Press are scaling back home delivery to three days a week. This is the beginning of the end. The newspaper companies are voluntarily giving up half their subscription revenue in exchange for not losing money on the printing and distribution of a paper without sufficient ad revenue to cover their expenses. There is only one way this arrow points: down.
Allen Mutter, Silicon Valley CEO, former newspaper guy, and blogger, says the radical scaling back was the only alternative to total collapse:
“The choice was to shut down or to try to salvage the newspaper,” said the former executive, who was familiar with the months-long deliberations earlier this year that resulted in the decision to scrap home delivery four days a week at the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News.
The radical plan, which is likely to cost some 190 people their jobs by March, was not as much a carefully conceived business decision as it was an act of desperation, said the executive, who declined to be identified because he did not want to compromise continuing business relationships.
You can sign up for the News or Free Press's new half-digital, half-dead system on the internets now, and it includes options to buy single electronic editions of the paper online. Which like… if there's no paywall—and there apparently isn't—why would I pay for the newspaper in an inconvenient format that attempts to mimic the experience of having a newspaper when I have a vastly more powerful medium at my fingertips?
Look! It's the internet! It links to things. It has infinite space and can insert video or audio if it wants; it can be interactive. It does not jump to another page unless I am evil and trying to get more pageviews out of each reader. The effort to develop an "electronic" edition of the paper is going to work about as well as The Sporting News' electronic daily thing, which ends up in my inbox every morning and exits, unread, because you're completely bats if you think I'm going to wander through a clumsy PDF file in search of two hundred words about Michigan.
You're either in or you're out, and this half-measure may slow the implosion but not for long. This morbidly funny event…
While Dave and the editors of both papers promised “vastly improved” digital products to satisfy the evolving information needs of their customers, they offered few concrete details of what new products were in the offing. The live webcast of their news conference was interrupted by repeated lapses in the transmission.
…is a microcosm of the situation. None of these people has any idea how to adapt. They can't because they formed their brains in a world without an internet. You can put a thing created by people who don't understand the internet on said internet and it will still be broken because its mentality remains wrong.
Clay Shirky explains this as clearly as possible:
The things that live on the internet are communities, not institutions, and these communities are brought together by a shared love of something. My personal example is the fungal community that grew up in the old MGoBlog 2.0 haloscan threads. (Here's a 2000-comment one.) I had no idea it was even there because the sheer vast insanity of them forced me into a choice: read and understand all this, or have a blog. People in there just talked, and kept talking, and a lot of it was about Gary Sheffield.
I saw this as a problem, and when I made the move to MGoBlog 3.0 I instituted registered commenting, threading, little signatures and avatars, diaries, and so forth and so on. I liberally applied fungicide to a community I had no idea existed. They responded by complaining, then started their own blog with haloscan commenting. When haloscan annoyingly got bought by someone or changed their feature sets or something—I didn't follow the exact nature of the offense that closely—they built their own crappy, featureless, drive-by-infested commenting system. This is the Wolverine Liberation Army, a community brought forth entirely by Michigan football, MGoBlog, and the world's worst commenting system.
I have another example: my brother is the administrator of a message board called UFCK that formed in the long-long ago as a Dave Mathews Band fan site. Everyone is now ten years older and so knows better, but the community still exists because the people on it just like talking to each other, probably about Gary Sheffield. The board recently went to a subscription-only model because donations were not covering bandwidth costs, and dozens, maybe a hundred, people shelled out. For a subscription. On the internet. To a message board.
Not even the New York Times could make a subscription model work.
What does this have to do with newspapers? Nothing, and that's sort of their problem. Go read the comments on any particular newspaper article and see how healthy their communities are.
What is there to love in the Free Press or News? Extremely little. About the only time in the past couple year's I've thought either local paper was useful was during the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal(s), because only they would dig it up and take Kilpatrick out. Other than that, it's just a bunch of content that touches the surface of things. I don't care about most of it and what I do care about I know is shallow.
The newspaper model is to appeal just enough to a vast swathe of a metro area. It's a monopoly model. Successful things on the internet usually appeal a great deal to a fervent niche.
I don't think the Detroit News is going to be around much longer, and the Free Press will continue to shrink in relevance and power until it's just another something. Neither institution deserves better, and in the interim between newspapers and whatever replaces them there is opportunity and chaos. Buckle up!
Etc.: Clay Shirky is really on top of this stuff; if you are seriously worried about what a journalist-free future looks like, 1) probably not going to happen, and 2) the internet has many, many upsides.