Death of a titan: what we’ll do to survive

Like most industries these days, the newspaper business sure is suffering. You’ve seen your favorite section disappear from your favorite daily. Your favorite columnist no longer appears near your favorite comic. The crime page isn’t as amusing or alarming as it once was. Most papers have slashed their staffs in half, and it shows.
It’s no secret newspapers are struggling. One only needs to look nearby to witness drastic changes. The Union-Tribune, perhaps the most recognizable brand in the area, has undergone major alterations. Any time an equity firm buys out a newspaper, you know there is a problem.
Part of the difficulty the newspaper business is currently facing is its struggle with a nagging, ongoing identity crisis. We can’t seem to figure out if we’re going digital, staying with print, or somehow merging the two (I’m using the term “we” as a collective whole here, including the Coast News Group). We’re like a group of geeky freshmen boys: smart and capable, yes, but equally hesitant and insecure. Frankly, I’m tired of having to “find ourselves.” I just want to chitchat about the news.
The reason we’re even forced to consider the digital versus print debate is because of changing social demographics. In one camp, we have the older, more mature, “coffee and newsprint on my fingers” crowd. These folks have been with us since the beginning. They need a tangible piece of paper to touch, see and even smell, so as to absorb the whole experience.
In the other camp, we have the technologically oriented folks. Having never picked up a paper before, these readers tap into the infinite realm of Internet news for their daily updates around the world. More often than not, their attention span is comparable to that of a caffeinated flea. Headlines must be outrageously engaging and even provocative to capture their interest. If not, they’ll go elsewhere.
And believe me, launching your product online is no easy task. These days, if you’re not updating your goods every five minutes or posting a live video to your live news coverage, you’re nothing but a bore. It brings the concept of remaining relative and current to a new level. How the hell are we supposed to keep up?
So as the baby boomers pass away, and the kids crave more interaction online, newspapers are simply forced to cater to their customers. It seems straightforward enough, but most newspapers haven’t figured it out yet. Print is dying, if not dead.
I have my good days and bad days when I contemplate the livelihood of my beloved profession. Just when I feel like we’re going to make it over this hump together as an industry, something else happens. For example, Warren Buffet, basically one of the richest guys in America, recently said he wouldn’t take over newspapers at any price these days. Thanks, Buff. We really appreciate the support. Sadly, a part of me understands exactly where he’s coming from. Nobody in their right mind would invest in such an unstable industry at the moment.
Is it that people have lost faith and/or interest in newspapers? Or are newspaper people alone in thinking their trade is necessary for a healthy democracy? I’m uncertain of the answers. But the reason all this drama and “self-realization” worries me is because we may lose one of the most important institutions we’ve ever known, all because the economy is in the crapper and readers are happy with relying on Facebook and Twitter for their news.


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