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The End of Print Newspapers Draws Closer

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As a kid I grew up reading the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. I can still remember the NHL beat writers (Keith Gave and Cynthia Lambert) and I looked forward to reading their daily updates. I used to save some of the better photographs and put them up on my wall. I very much enjoy reading a physical copy of the NY Times or Washington Post (when I lived in DC). A newspaper makes a fine way to pass the time while eating your lunch.

Both Detroit papers just announced they are cutting back home delivery to just three days a week. Print newspapers have been steadily reducing their staff for several years now as advertisers shift more to the internet and costs rise and subscribers die (newspaper reads are much older than the general population). I see no reason to think this trend will reverse and the current recession will only intensify pressures. The Tribune company declared bankruptcy this month as well. Cox Communications (which publishes the AJC) will close their Washington D.C. bureau office to save costs. Newspapers are going the way of the dinosaur, the only question is who soon and how will the new digital media world function.

Clearly the future is online content, but right now most papers allow free access to their sites. There is simply not enough money in online advertising to make that sustainable in the long run. It seems to me that the newspaper industry ought to create an industry standard pay-per-story system in which readers have something like a paypal account and they are charged .05 for each article that they view. If the entire industry adopted an easy mechanism and the cost per view remained small I think consumers would accept it after some grumbling.

What would sell in a pay per view environment? Certainly a beat writer covering major professional sports would receive regular hits by fans of a team. There will always be a need for game stories and practice updates--fans want to know who is on what line and when so and so is going to return.

On the other hand when it comes to opinion content, would you pay .05 to read columns by Mark Bradley or Jeff Schultz? Personally, I think Schultz is lazy and Mark Bradley simply doesn't pay enough attention to hockey to have much interesting to say. Or would you choose to read Rawhide, the guys at Blueland Chronicle, Thrashers Talons or the other blogs that are out there?

What if the simply stopped covering the Atlanta Thrashers? There was talk last season about the paper cutting back on money for travel. Some newspapers in New York and Los Angeles have chosen to just run AP stories and save money on travel.

The Washington Captials have responded to low newspaper coverage by their two major daily papers by embracing bloggers and fan created digital media. The other thing the Capitals have done include sending some of their local bloggers to cover an international tournament ignored by the local papers.

If the stops covering the Thrashers how would they respond? My guess is that they would take Ben Wright on the road and have him act as an in-house beat reporter. Would they open the door of the massive and mostly empty press box? I have my doubts. When it comes to media coverage the Thrashers are fairly risk averse.

Despite receiving minimal attention from local print, TV and radio they have held bloggers at arms length. There have been exactly two blogger events in franchise history. One game where we were allowed to sit up in the press box and observe the post-game news conference (but not ask any questions). The other event was a roundtable with Coach Anderson at camp this year. They've let us see what it is like to be treated like media, but they don't treat us like media.

At this point I've been credentialed a couple of times up in Nashville by the Predators organization. If I ever go to a game in Washington I will be credentialed there as well. It was interesting to attend a game as press. The stats updates mid-game were nice for a stats guy like me. The post-game interviews are very quick and you must have your question formed ahead of time or the whole thing will be over before you know it. I know some bloggers take the position that they don't care about access, but I disagree. There are subtle things such as body language that you can pick up in person and you can ask the question on your mind instead of just hoping someone else asks the question as you watch on a webcast.

So the future of digital media draws a step closer this week. Print newspapers are not going to recover or rebound. The largest print advertiser in the USA are automotive companies and they are hanging by a thread and will be looking to cut costs. Classified ads have shifted to Craig's List or Ebay and they're not coming back. In the new digital press, part-time bloggers like myself will be competing with the columnists like Mark Bradley and Jeff Schultz--and I welcome that contest.