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Cheered by the magnificent Pulitzer Prize success of my friends and former Dallas Morning News colleagues, I decided to do something I hadn’t done in a while: go to print journalism analysis sites to see if things might be looking up for the industry.
Big mistake. The advertising collapse hasn’t found bottom yet. (See here also). Philadelphia, my new city, might be the first major city to lose its already-bankrupt daily papers (if San Francisco doesn’t beat us). And I spoke the other day to a journalism school professor I know who is changing careers in part because he can’t in good conscience encourage college students to go into a profession where there aren’t jobs.
Alan D. Mutter makes a detailed case about how the iPad could be a big boost for print journalism. I usually scoff at predictions that technology will save newspapers, but I’ve got to say, this makes some sense to me. The iPad is a marvelous, marvelous device, the first one I’ve ever seen that makes online newspaper reading a pleasure. I’m not going to make a habit of sitting on my couch with my coffee reading The New York Times on my laptop, which is the main reason why I still get it delivered on dead tree. But the day I buy an iPad — which, having seen and held and surfed with one, I’m sure would make portability and readability of the online newspaper a pleasure — is the day I cancel my NYT home delivery subscription. That would be a disaster in the short term for the Times, but nobody doubts that conventional delivery of the print product is in unstoppable decline. The faster newspapers switch to an excellent iPad version of their product, the better their longterm prospects. At least it seems to me. The real problem, the nearly insurmountable problem, is that customers expect newspapers to give their product away for free on the web. Mutter notes that one newspaper in Texas that put a subscriber firewall up had to abandon the project after its readership declined massively overnight. Still, I would be willing to pay something — and not just a negligible amount — to get The New York Times delivered electronically to my iPad. I doubt that I’m alone.
The thing that kills me, as a lifelong journalist, is how much good, important work will be lost if newspapers and magazines go under. People really don’t grasp what’s at stake. Then again, I don’t subscribe to my local paper, in part because I don’t yet feel invested in this place emotionally, but also because I already have a relationship with the NYT, and spending on a Philly paper would be superfluous (plus, I can read it for free online — like I can read the Times for free too). You see the problem.