3 Non-blog Reasons Why Newspapers Are Dying

There’s another flurry of ‘Newspapers Are Dead‘ posts this weekend. Dave Winer seemed to have triggered this by his post on the troubles at the San Francisco Chronicle. Robert Scoble has taken up the theme as he did some months ago. Even the Google Guys and Dave Barry have voiced the same views in the past.

News papers must change to survive.

Mark Evans takes the opposite tack in proclaiming that Scoble is wrong. However he suggests that circulation figures show that newspapers are growing. He then seems to spike his own argument by mentioning that this is largely explained by the growth of free newspapers. Doc Searl takes a more helpful line in suggesting a number of different ways the newspapers can avoid their untimely fate.

So often this ongoing conflict is represented as the battle of the journalists versus the bloggers. However I believe there are more fundamental reasons why the newspapers are finding it difficult to move with the times. It’s because newspaper publishers have a long tradition spanning centuries of producing printed newspapers. They’re good at it but they, like many others, assume the Internet is merely an alternative communication channel to transport their wares. Developing an effective website on the Internet is fundamentally different. Here are three principal reasons why newspapers are having problems.

  1. Graphic Design is fundamentally different from Web Design. A viewer looking at a printed page is going through a very different experience from a reader looking at a web page. Not the least, he or she is probably willing to look at only 25% of the content that might be acceptable on a printed page.
  2. Given that most people find things with Google, Yahoo! or one of the other search engines, an effective website must be search engine visible. Online newspapers are often not set up with this intent.
  3. Moving around any website must give a pleasing user experience or the visitor will click away to more welcoming websites. This is what is called Usability and it requires special attention. Trying to mimic the printed version on the Internet will be disastrous.
An effective online version is the solution.

Any newspaper that can accept this different mindset can develop an effective online presence. In turn this can be supportive of the printed version and may even encourage readership. Only a few newspapers are showing they understand this Digital Divide that must be crossed.

Can Graphic Designers Do Website Design?
Newspapers Are Dead Scrolls
Newspaper Design Awards And Usability

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3 thoughts on “3 Non-blog Reasons Why Newspapers Are Dying”

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  2. Sorry Barry, I don’t agree with those 3 points.

    They are issues that need addressing, but the absolute number 1 reason they aren’t embracing the web as they might, is down to revenue.

    With a magazine, there’s an obvious revenue stream. You write content, people pay for the magazine, and can’t read your content otherwise. Along with the relatively easy advertising style where companies can just buy pages and make it look however they want etc….

    On the web, it’s a lot more difficult to charge for access to content. They see this as dissolving their little empire, each magazine in the company I work for has its own little area that it feels it’s responsible for, and few of them understand how to embrace the web and make it work for them. Most try and avoid it, put the bare minimum up.

    Advertising on a web site is a lot trickier, they want all the visual control of print design, mixed with the interactivity of the web. People don’t flip through pages of a web site, you can’t very easily just have separate pages of adverts that people see as they are browsing, you’ve somehow got to work it into the pages as they are.

    The company I work for seem to want to do a lot of advertising, and a lot for communities. The problem is, they skip straight to that part, and kind of leave blanks where the description of how they will do that should be.

  3. Of course, you’re right, Adrian. Since they like the current revenue streams, they’re whistling as they walk along hoping the sky isn’t going to fall on them. If they can get their minds round the fact that the sky is falling, then I believe they may still have problems for the second set of reasons I set out here. I’ve described some of the situations that confirm their difficulties in some of the Related references at the foot of the post. Thanks for putting that emphasis on their motivation.

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