“Not our fault”

A couple of weeks ago, The Wrap reported that "a broad study by a group of respected journalists into the disruption that the digital age has brought to print has led them to a surprising conclusion: the decline was unavoidable." The article, written by Sharon Waxman, goes on to note:

In other words, the newspapers were outgunned by the new online giants that had no investment in creating content. In fact, the panel concluded, none of these companies had any computer engineers, which it turned out was what was necessary to compete.

It's not surprising to learn that the people who oversaw the dismantling of the newspaper industry in the United States feel that it's not their fault. Better yet, they have a bogeyman in companies like Google and Apple, who (by extension) didn't care about content the way that newspaper people did.

I know this is pointed, but these respected journalists owe us more than a collective absolution. Blaming technology and search engines avoids answering a core question: Why weren't people willing to pay more to subscribe to their local newspapers? As I've written before, per-capita newspaper circulation has been declining in the United States since 1947. Near as I can tell, only 15 of those 66 years involved a credible web distribution model.

Many newspapers could have survived if the people who ran them saw an over-reliance on advertising as a risk. Instead of pushing lower-value content to satisfy advertisers' expectations, they might have invested more in serving their communities. And those elusive "computer engineers" might have had a home building "your daily dataset".

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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