Apr 7, 2009

Newspaperocalypse: Is this the end?

by Mitchell Malcheff

Tick, tick, tick. The clock is running out on newspapers as the click, click, click of computer mouses grows ever louder. And if the trend toward Internet news continues, the click of moving mouses is threatening to drown out the sound of rustling pages.

The death knell has already sounded for the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Christian Science Monitor. The Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune are bankrupt, the Washington Post and New York Times are shedding jobs faster than Angelina Jolie can adopt babies and beat reporters are being replaced by bloggers.

The Web site Paper Cuts, (I shudder that I chose an Internet source for this story), which tracks the newspaper industry, states that 7,468 positions in the newspaper industry have been eliminated this year, and it’s only April. At this rate, 30,000 newspaper jobs will disappear by the end of this year.

So how is the newspaper biz, once considered so essential to democracy, supposed to stave off extinction? Perhaps it can take a page from the Blob, that infamous movie from the 1950s that featured an amorphous creature from outer space that engulfed everything in its path.

To make a long and rather boring story short, the Blob was eventually stopped when the brave citizens of Downington, Pa., including a young and dashing Steve McQueen (ask your parents), discovered that only extreme cold could “stop the horror!” Sprayed with a fire extinguisher, the Blob turned into an extremely cold and frozen Blob, capable only of icing down a delicious glass of lemonade on a hot Pennsylvania afternoon. The government dropped the Blobbish icicle in the Arctic and the audience was left with these chilling words — the end?

So if the Internet is the news business’ personal Blob, there must be a way to kill it or at the very least freeze it until it comes back to life and terrorizes the world again, as the Blob did 14 years later in Los Angeles, hence the question mark at the end of Blob numero uno. (Hats off Hollywood for very clever and painfully obvious marketing.).

The obvious lesson, then, is that extreme cold will not kill the Internet. It is simply too powerful.

The answer in the short term is that newspapers must learn to survive in an alien environment. The Internet has created an on-demand world that even a daily paper just cannot keep up with. Updates assault your browser, Blackberry and inbox by the minute.

Besides the update onslaught, the Internet has created an attitude of “if it ain’t free, I ain’t paying for it.” The biggest mistake that papers made when they migrated online was that content was free from the get-go. The time has passed when perhaps a few cents could have been charged per article or a monthly or yearly fee could have been assessed for online access to any of the major newspapers. And even if papers did charge, there are enough free sites available that most would just move elsewhere to keep up with the Octomom and other stories of national importance (who’s winning Dancing with the Stars, by the way?).

Newspapers will figure it out and eventually put an end to the Blob’s “reign of terror.” Or maybe they will be forced to hitch a ride on his slimy back. Either way, in a free society, there is and always has been a need for newspapers willing to keep a watchful on Washington and other power centers, keeping citizens informed of news that they need. Blogging has its advantages to be sure … wait a second, if you change the g in blog to a b, “It spells Blob! It’s back! Ahhhhhhhhhhh!”

Contact Mitchell Malcheff at
mjmalcheff@liberty.edu.

 


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