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Goodbye to newspapers?

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Newspapers experiencing a very bad year, according to the MediaDailyNews.

http://publications.mediapost.com/index.cf...e&art_aid=35690

Even so, this good news is scant relief for an industry besieged by flat ad revenues, falling stocks, and fleeing subscribers. Last week, Rishad Tobaccowala, chief innovation officer for Publicis Groupe, told a newspaper--the Chicago Tribune--"newspapers are at a tipping point," in which online media will start to take more readership and more ad dollars. He added that newspapers are in the worst situation of all news media for growth as "the least visually engaging and least youth oriented" medium.

Most of the nice free news we get from the internet is from those boring old papers nobody wants to read. (Ballet Talk Links, for example.) Maybe they’re not all that “visually engaging” but for browsing through the news you want (and news you didn’t think you wanted until you just happened to see it) they’re still the best thing going. That’s hardly surprising – papers have had centuries to work out how to present information in a readable and helpful way and the net is just starting, really.

It does take time to get into the habit of reading the daily paper – I didn’t really start until college – but I do think that the internet isn’t yet ready to replace hard copies entirely. It may be true that papers are doomed. But we don’t yet have an adequate replacement for them.

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I realize this doesn't relate to ballet writing, but ...

Widespread newspaper reading is a relatively recent phenomenon (late 19th century in the biggest cities). And not until the 20th century did newspapers become a daily necessity for members of all social classes.

The newspaper as we know it flourished in a time when literacy was expanding, when reading was considered the single most important key to socioeconomic advancement and had a higher status than it does today. Nowadays, people are no longer ashamed to admit that they rarely read. Having "no time to read" seems actually to be something to be proud of. Similarly, pride in admitting that one learns primarily by hearing rather than reading -- usually associated with pre-literate societies -- is very much in vogue with the young.

Daily newspapers (both morning and afternoon) were suited to commuting to work by public transportation and are quite inefficient for those who commute by car. And, they came in a variety of formats (including tabloids) and vocabulary levels that catered to different social classes, political parties, levels of education, etc. This year several British newspapers, including the Guardian and Financial Times, I believe, have experimented "down-sizing" their papers to a size even smaller than the traditional tabloid, in the hopes readers will find them more convenient for carrying and storing.

If, as the article suggests, being "visually engaging" and "youth oriented" is the key to newspaper survival, they have a very difficult task ahead of them. TV will always had advantage in both areas.

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Taking this topic up by its smallest handle, I'd like to add that the newspapers and magazines of the burgeoning middle classes of the nineteenth century took many skills for granted among those who COULD read and were hungry for something to passhte time -- in particular, MUSIC was published in magazines, like chess and bridge and crossword puzzles.... if you could read, you could probably read music -- the radio was an instrument like a piano, but it could read the music for you, and time was freed up from practising to keep your fingers dextrous, so of course interest broadened and maybe got shallower (but the kinds of music in the magazines were just thenew tangos and such, nothing very difficult -- though in THAT respect there's great music that's not difficult technically -- some Chopin preludes and mazurkas are not hard to get your fingers round, and much of Mozart -- though the hard thing about playing Mozart's piano sonatas is that there are not enough notes, so every one that IS there must be played exquisitely)......

sorry, I'm rambling all over the place.....

the cool and really valuable thing about print is that you can take it with you and when you get there you STILL HAVE IT --

video tape fails, cds and dvds can lose all their info in a flash -- but books are there until they burn or you throw them away.... if of course you can FIND them in the mountain of paper.

(I've been shoveling off my desk for the last several days, down to bare wood in places.)

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I admit to rarely buying midweek papers, relying largely on the net and NPR for most of my news. I have an aversion to throwing out unread reading matter, and in a New York apartment, well . . .

I do miss the seredipity of that unexpected article which I'd only find by flipping pages. But in terms of each day's -- okay, each week's -- major stories, I don't feel I miss a whole lot. Except the crossword, which is a premium feature at NYTimes.com. But I buy the books. :P

Come to think of it, I rarely do crosswords anymore, since I got internet access, except when travelling.

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Here's a lovable rant from Propect that intersects with this topic from a little different angle. You only have to compare the arts coverage in the NYT Sunday Times to that of ten or fifteen years ago to arrive at a US version of this complaint.

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/article_...ils.php?id=7086

[in the old days...] Every single debutant at the Wigmore Hall was reviewed, every new play at the Bush or the Theatre Upstairs or the ICA. London is still the music capital of the world; in those days, the arts pages, led by the FT, treated it as such. Lord Drogheda was chairman not only of the FT, but also of the Royal Opera House. When looking for the paper's first music critic in the early 1950s, he found Andrew Porter, a critic of an authority and brilliance to rival George Bernard Shaw and Ernest Newman. There is no one else quite like Porter, who today writes mainly in the Times Literary Supplement. Great critics are rare birds; rare birds, though, need a welcoming aviary, and the zookeepers are not on the lookout for such special—and specialist—breeds of plumage any more...

But the truth is that newspapers increasingly devote largely uncritical coverage to the latest product of the publicity machine, be it an inexperienced actress, a media loudmouth or a Glasgow pop group. Previews and interviews now take precedence over critical responsibility. But the idea that they do so in order to meet a public demand is, I believe, false. Anyone under the age of 30 who wants to read about pop music, new film and reality television knows where to go. That place is not the broadsheets, but magazines and the internet. So the liberal, professional intelligentsia who read the broadsheets are confronted with coverage they don't want and comment on "high culture" by people who often know less about it than they do.

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Thank you for that, Quiggin. Good article. The papers’ desperation to reach new and younger readers is directly responsible for the general decline and disappearance of serious arts coverage, and the young, from all reports, don’t care. However, the author of that article doesn't allow for the fact that the papers do have to try something. Otherwise, their readership will continue to age and gradually drop off, and there will be no young eyeballs to replace the old ones.

(Regarding the NY Times’ arts coverage, in the fairly recent past the paper’s popular culture coverage was indeed notoriously clueless (now it’s just intermittently clueless) and they were right to try to correct the balance. They just went too far in the other direction.)

I do feel an obligation to take a subscription to the paper I read every day, the NY Times national issue in my case, and I also take a subscription to my town paper as a public spirited gesture even if I don’t get to it every day. Most people may not want to go this far, I realize, but I do feel an obligation to subsidize in some way the publications that give me most of my news whether I read it or get it off the net.

Bart raises some interesting points – it may be that people are no longer willing to take the thirty to forty five minutes it takes to read a paper like the Times properly, and the social changes and impulses that led to the widespread newspaper habit are giving way to changes that work against that same habit. It’s true that the afternoon papers are virtually gone, killed by TV news (and now the early evening news broadcasts that killed those papers is threatened by cable news and the internet).

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Bart raises some interesting points – it may be that people are no longer willing to take the thirty to forty five minutes it takes to read a paper like the Times properly, and the social changes and impulses that led to the widespread newspaper habit are giving way to changes that work against that same habit. 

Those changes we're experiencing, that availability of instant, up to date news and, a moment later, more up to up date news -- and 1400 sources for it to boot -- clearly work against thoughtful, reflective reading, and just maybe this is contributing to the current cultural and political red state/blue state polarization, rife with unexamined stereotypes/prejudices as it is.

As for me, I grew up loving the feel and smell of paper and of newsprint, and the convenience and stimulation of the 'net can't displace them.

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I also take a subscription to my town paper as a public spirited gesture even if I don’t get to it every day.  Most people may not want to go this far, I realize, but I do feel an obligation to subsidize in some way the publications that give me most of my news whether I read it or get it off the net.

In college I read the local paper each day online. I would have loved a print subscription, but our apartment complex did not have onsite recycling because the city would not pick up from apartments. I couldn't handle the masses of paper piling up waiting for me to take it to the recycling center. While I was in college I frequently wrote to the city council in support of apartment pick up (they had curbside pick up for houses) but to no avail. Whenever newspapers would call, I would cite this as my reason for not subscribing. I hope they would see the connection of lack of recycling services to lack of subscribers and also lobby the city. The guilt of throwing away a newspaper everyday - even when the subscription rate was less than a quarter a day- was just to large.

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It's hard for me to be objective about this subject (should newspapers disappear so would my paycheck! :blush:), so I hope this doesn't come off as self-serving. These are truly awful times for newspapers -- we're just hemorrhaging money, losing readers, etc -- but I think it's sad situation not just for us. To me, newspapers are one of the few remaining institutions that bind a society that seems ever more splintered. For 50 cents or whatever, whether you're a factory worker or a CEO, you get access to the same information. There's no digital divide. I remember how my parents, when they were new immigrants, just devoured newspapers. It was their gateway.

Something is lost, I think, when entire swaths of a community just don't read a newspaper, and instead get their information from partisan or special interest media. It's troubling that people increasingly seem to be narrowing rather than expanding their worlds.

So now I've totally depressed myself -- maybe I'll just go home sick! :blink:

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Something is lost, I think, when entire swaths of a community just don't read a  newspaper, and instead get their information from partisan or special interest media. It's troubling that people increasingly seem to be narrowing rather than expanding their worlds.

With the facts culled and arranged to support the point of view. Very sad indeed.

Any chance of stemming the tide?

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With the facts culled and arranged to support the point of view. Very sad.
indeed.

True, but that’s actually a pretty good description of newspapers before the rise of a)“objective” reporting and b) the monopoly paper. Although I do think that, taking the long view, “objective” journalism -- however flawed in practice -- is superior, the earlier state of affairs had its positive aspects –competition was remarkably intense, and papers tried hard to scoop each other and poke holes in each other’s stories, which was all to the good. “Partisan” doesn’t necessarily mean “inaccurate.” What’s lost when people substitute the net and other media for a newspaper is the depth and detail that kfw mentions. And the other media frequently take their cue and get their information from the major papers.

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Why is NYTimes.com inferior to The New York Times? I mean, other than the aforementioned lost serendipity? The story that is put to bed for the hard copy in the middle of the night is updated to within an hour or two when I get it on the web.

Just because it's electronic doesn't make it inferior. My choice of reading matter is the same. It's the medium that changes. In this case, does McLuhan still hold?

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I’d suggest that the broadsheet version of the paper, at present, is superior to the net in terms of drawing and holding a reader’s attention, particularly for complex stories. (As a West Coast reader of the paper, I’m not really looking for the most up to date information; I’m less concerned with breaking news than with thoroughness and the finer points.)

From the newspaper’s point of view, if you’re looking at a hard copy of the Times, chances are you’ve paid for it, unless you’re in a coffee shop or a library. The Sulzberger family, like the Grahams, are a public spirited group and they accept a smaller profit margin to put out a better paper, but there are limits to everyone’s generosity. :blink:

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I stopped doing the NY Times Sunday crossword because I didn't want to buy the entire paper and throw 3/4 of it away every week. I now happily peruse the online version and subscribe to their premium crossword service. I even more happily peruse washingtonpost.com. I love that there aren't space constraints on the web and that I can read new articles as they come out.

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For 50 cents or whatever, whether you're a factory worker or a CEO, you get access to the same information. There's no digital divide.

Good point, scoop. The digital divide may disappear or even vanish with time, but we’re nowhere near that point yet.

On the other hand, considering your employment prospects, maybe you'll just be employed differently. Of course, those like kfw and myself who have an atavistic attachment to newsprint will be out of luck (or in the great beyond.:blink:).

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Why is NYTimes.com inferior to The New York Times?  I mean, other than the aforementioned lost serendipity?  The story that is put to bed for the hard copy in the middle of the night is updated to within an hour or two when I get it on the web.

Just because it's electronic doesn't make it inferior.  My choice of reading matter is the same.  It's the medium that changes.  In this case, does McLuhan still hold?

As far as the individual stories are concerned, you're right to note that the electronic version of an article is often updated or modified after it's first posted, and this can be a good thing.

What I think most online versions of print publications have a difficult time with is conveying the totality of the issue. When I look at my local papers (we have two dailies in Seattle, and my household gets them both) I scan the front pages of the sections and then read the stories I'm interested in. The layout of the page tells me a great deal about which stories are considered important, or connected -- over time we've all learned to decipher the semiotics of a newspaper page.

Very often now, though, the individual stories in the electronic version are displayed just like that -- individually. The screen doesn't always tell you which was the lead story, or which was a related piece. In some cases, depending on the way the site is programmed, you can wind up looking at material from several days ago without knowing it, by clicking on a "more" button. Jusst thinking in terms of dance coverage, you don't necessarily get a "picture" of the dance community on any given day, but instead a series of related pieces that may or may not comprise the entireity of the dance writing that day.

Of course this is all leading to podcasting, where you pre-select the topics you're interested in and the seach engine takes out all the bits it thinks you don't want. This assumes that there is very little that is expected to engage everyone -- the myth of the general reader seems to be imploding even as I write. And yes, there are whole sections of the paper that I never look at (sports goes into the recycling pretty much just as it entered the house, unless I drop it accidentally and scatter it around), but I do think there's something valuable just in knowing it exists, even if I choose not to explore it.

Some papers go out of their way to replicate some aspects of their print version (up to and including pdf files of their pages) on their websites, but I still see more of the floating articles (geographically unanchored).

To answer the last part of your question, I think McLuhan is even more accurate now than he was when he was first writing -- with the Internet and its attendant developments, the medium is very much the message.

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One big difference between nytimes.com and the paper paper is you now have to pay if you want to read the op-ed columnists like Tom Friedman and Maureen Dowd online. That's definitely the wave of the future -- newspapers are realizing that they've been giving a valuable commodity away for free, and now are trying to start charging for it. I wonder, though, if people who have grown accustomed to free newspapers online can be convinced to start paying, or if they'll just do without.

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Unless you're willing to go to the library or pick up people's leftovers at Starbucks :unsure: , you're paying for the op-ed writers, too.

I paid a $29 annual fee and get access to each of the regular op-ed columnists for 90 days after publication. Still considerably less than buying a daily paper. :P

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This exchange is making me think about something (in this case, newspapers) I've always taken for granted and I guess assumed would exist eternally and with little change.

Most older people I know (and I include myself) either do not enjoy or have actual difficulty in concentrating on lengthy texts on a computer screen. For many of us, text on the computer is for speed-reading, skimming, skipping, cherry-picking. I don't know whether this also applies to the younger generation, but I personally know almost no one of any age, of than academics, who sits for long periods of time the complex and lengthy writing. The fact that I can control what I see and read with my cursor only increases the risk that I will miss or skip something important to the total picture. (Says one who is all too quick to use those little up-and-down arrows and especially the delete button.)

I appreciate all the comments, but sandik seems to come closest to what troubles me.

What I think most online versions of print publications have a difficult time with is conveying the totality of the issue.  When I look at my local papers (we have two dailies in Seattle, and my household gets them both) I scan the front pages of the sections and then read the stories I'm interested in.  The layout of the page tells me a great deal about which stories are considered important, or connected -- over time we've all learned to decipher the semiotics of a newspaper page.

Very often now, though, the individual stories in the electronic version are displayed just like that -- individually.  The screen doesn't always tell you which was the lead story, or which was a related piece.  In some cases, depending on the way the site is programmed, you can wind up looking at material from several days ago without knowing it, by clicking on a "more" button. Jusst thinking in terms of dance coverage, you don't necessarily get a "picture" of the dance community on any given day, but instead a series of related pieces that may or may not comprise the entireity of the dance writing that day. 

Won't this trend just increase the fragmentation of information -- and the confusion of fact and opinion -- that is already built into news on television?

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The print publications really are stuck between a rock and a hard place. You do have a new generation arising that seems to feel put upon whenever they have to pay for something online. And yet if you try to make people pay, as is the case with Times Select, people either find a back door or they just don’t link to your articles. And with the rise of the blogosphere, an important part of getting your stuff read is getting it linked to. It will be interesting to see how this all works out.

Thank you for the link to Ken Auletta’s article about The Los Angeles Times, kfw. The history of ownership at the LA Times is a demonstration of the worst (and best) aspects of family ownership, and the story of the paper since the Chandlers sold it to the Tribune Company shows what happens when corporate types take over. (And the Tribune Company is far from the worst.) I used to be able to buy the LA Times on any number of Northern California street corners. No more. Such availability isn't just a question of access -- it reflects a paper's reach and ambitions.

I add my thanks to bart's. I was trying to say that, but you put it so much better, sandik. You are very lucky to have two dailies in your town, although from what I’m reading that may not be for too much longer.

kfw, I loved this quote:

Smith is viewed more enthusiastically by Ann Marie Lipinski, who joined the Chicago Tribune as an intern in 1978, right after college, and whom he appointed editor in 2001.

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Won't this trend just increase the fragmentation of information -- and the confusion of fact and opinion -- that is already built into news on television?

The original strategy used by AOL, Yahoo, MSN, etc. was to control the "portal" by pre-packaging the world-view, with ample advertising. While it is still possible to default to each provider's default portal, there are many ways to customize the information that appears. The next step is to leverage RSS to make everything customizable.

The current general vision of the Internet is to use it to choose exactly what one wants to see, on demand, and customizing the web experience to filter out the "clutter." (We see this with VCR's/TiVo, as we fast-forward through the commercials, commentary, etc. I've just heard from a friend that one sports network packages the "fast" version of football into about a half hour, getting rid of the huddles, time outs, etc., so that only the action is shown.)

However, while the entire Internet is available, how to pre-package the options and tie it into revenue-producing "services" is the key toward "winning" the customizable blank slate. Whether people will customize with pasteurized, pre-packaged tripe or expand their world view using full resources is to be seen. Search and a little patience are the most powerful tools we have to go beyond conventional news sources.

The Internet still remains the cheapest way to publish. There's no need for distributors, shelf space, incentives to carry, etc.. Wherever there is connectivity there is information.

To bring this back to ballet, frankly, I have more confidence in the reviews of the posters on this board than I do in almost any newspaper critic in the country, including The New York Times. And for more contemporary work, I'd rather read On the Boards' "Blog the Boards" than a conventional arts critic on the same work.

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To bring this back to ballet, frankly, I have more confidence in the reviews of the posters on this board than I do in almost any newspaper critic in the country, including The New York Times.  And for more contemporary work, I'd rather read On the Boards' "Blog the Boards" than a conventional arts critic on the same work.

I can understand this, at least as far as it applies to reviewers outside the biggest metropolitan areas.

In smaller cities, the "cultural" reviewer gets only a few chances to (a) observe and (b) comment on the local and visiting companies. The reviewer does not have the frequent exposure to dance that might allow him/her to really know the company, its repertoire and its dancers. By the same token, the reader has only a handful of opportunities to learn about the reviewer and his/her level of knowledge, point of view and reviewing standards.

Yesterday, following a lead from Leigh Witchell, I went into the Ballet Talk archives and found a number of really interesting threads about reviewers from 2002-2004. One of the recurring topics was: Croce as compared to .... well, just about anyone. It got me thinking. One reason Croce made such a powerful impression on me as a younger audience member was that there she was, every week more or less, in the New Yorker. Even if you didn't know the company or dancer, you got to know Croce. And to know her very well. We went to the ballet together, in a sense. And, as a result, I "trusted" her, and learned from her, concerning many performances I had not seen and never would see. Even when I realized there were certain things on which we disagreed.

P.S.: For those of us relatively new to Ballet Talk, I recommend the archives enthusiastically. And the BT Search engine.

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To take it away from ballet and back to the 'totality of the picture' that sandik and bart were referring to:

My knee-jerk Luddite reaction would be to agree that you see a much wider picture by reading the print version, however today I came across an opposite example.

The website of the Israeli broad-sheet Ha'Aretz has a 'special' on the 10th anniversary of the assasination of Israeli PM Itzhak Rabin. At the click of a mouse, you can see all the articles that have been published this week in the various sections of the paper (book review, op-ed, magazine, etc.) on the topic and there is also a link to the articles published on Nov 5, 1995, the day after the assasination. This is an extreme example, as the topic is of obvious interest to every person who reads Ha'Aretz, but it has certainly led me to read some articles that I would otherwise not have come across in my cursory daily glance at the website headlines (and in-depth reading of the art, leisure and legal pages :unsure: ).

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In my work for a magazine publisher, I've discovered some things about the business models of print versus web publishing.

Right now, print is still subsidizing the web. Print advertisers are the backbone of the traditional business model; however, the money they will pay depends on circulation. As circulation is siphoned away from the print edition to the online version, advertising revenues fall. Meanwhile, internet advertising has not filled the void because it is simply not as effective—people ignore banner ads and click "Skip this ad" during the Flash animations. At least I know I do. There is not a lot of money there.

So you must charge for online content—but people are unwilling to pay what the content is really worth and what it costs to produce. Outsourcing production can be introduced as a cost-saving measure. But quality does suffer in this entire process. I love the openness and convenience of the web, but we've been getting a free lunch. If we want to read the New York Times online (as I do every day except Sunday), and if we want it to remain as valuable a resource as it is, we should pay for it.

Otherwise, we can rely on amateur information (I don't necessarily employ that term with contempt). I agree that the quality and depth of information on Ballet Talk is incredible, and many times superior to mainstream sources. Other enterprises, like Wikipedia, also show that the biggest threat to publishing may be that people are happy to offer their time and expertise for free. That is an amazing thing. Of course there is more junk than treasure out there.

And reading some of the great critics from the heyday of print, you were still getting something more. Deep knowledge, a new way of seeing, context, judgement, love of the art form, wonderful writing. I'm glad we have this forum, but I think it's tragic that people can't get paid to deliver criticism on that level any more (the firing of Tobi Tobias, the skin-deep coverage of the NY Times—I'm glad they do it, but it doesn't provide many new insights for the aficionado).

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