The butterfly effectWritten by Tom Pounds | President / Publisher | email@example.com
The March 14 episode of “The Simpsons” took a bemused shot at the newspaper industry. In a “world of tomorrow” type film that purported to show how life would look in an imagined era of flying cars and robot assistance, a family patriarch is shown in his easy chair, unfolding a newspaper.
“Just one of six editions printed every day!” the narrator enthused, as Dad marveled at the information. “Want to know what happened in China yesterday? Just pick up a newspaper!”
The joke, of course, is that when it comes to knowing what is happening in China this very minute, much less yesterday, daily newspapers have long ago lost the information race.
On the heels of this jab, a study in the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s annual report determined — are you sitting down? — that “getting people to pay for news online would be like trying to force butterflies back into their cocoons.”
The study estimated six in 10 Americans read at least some news online every day. On average, each person spends three minutes and four seconds per visit to a news site. About a third of online readers have a favorite Web source they look at every day.
So far, so good. But only 19 percent are willing to pay for news online and 82 percent of those with preferred news sites said if their Web site of choice started charging for content, they would find news elsewhere.
All of this reinforces the obvious: The old paid delivery model is dead and the new free digital model isn’t paying, causing a business rift of historic proportions and forever altering the news business. Free is the foundation upon which scores of local community newspapers— including Toledo Free Press — are built: delivering information to readers at no charge, with the onus of profitability on the publisher, not the reader.
The study also expresses concerns about the dwindling resources being applied to news gathering, and that is an important point for anyone who cares about the machinations of human life, society and politics. While there are strong and urgent cases to be made about the quality of journalism smaller papers can produce, the real concern may be more about the drop-off in the quantity of news coming from traditional sources. Smaller news sources are more selective about the news-gathering process. Is there a danger that many news stories will fall between the cracks, or will other outlets rise to fill those slots?
Trying to answer these questions is like speculating about the “world of tomorrow.” We can speculate and guess, but in the end, only time and the marketplace will decide.
Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: The SImpsons