Online papers on the horizon?

There are a lot of people who welcome the end of the dead-tree version of newspapers in North America, and there no doubt appears to be forced changes on the horizon due to today’s global recession.
Newspapers are suffering right now, to be sure. Waning advertising revenue and reduced circulation numbers are forcing some to close up shop.
The Rocky Mountain News, one of two major newspapers based out of Denver, Colo., closed its doors recently while several other major newspapers in the U.S. have filed for bankruptcy.
Hardly a day goes by without hearing of more cutbacks or budget slashes at newspaper outlets everywhere.
But I believe they are not suffering because people don’t want to read what we write. I think it’s more because people are less willing to pay for it now than ever before.
When newspapers first went online, most required a log-in username and password to access that day’s news, and it either came free with a purchase of a print subscription or could be purchased for a flat fee.
The Winnipeg Free Press, for example, went away from that—probably due to the relative ease of sharing account information or as a means to attract more advertisers through increased traffic to their website.
The challenge of competing in the online world is very real, and soon we may see newspapers going solely to an online format. Perhaps it’s the future of our industry, or maybe not.
Once traditional newspapers learn how to make money offering an entirely-online product, chances are we will see the industry start to sway in that direction. Currently, advertisers are hesitant to pay big bucks for an online ad when they don’t know how it will work for them.
The Fort Frances Times has begun operating a Facebook fan page, which updates daily with links directly to stories, videos, and photos from our www.fftimes.com site or at www.fortfrances.tv
It’s certainly a work-in-progress, and there will be kinks to be sure, but we’re trying to modernize and make our content as accessible as possible.
Nowadays when a reporter travels across the country to cover a sports event and writes an article, the story can get picked up by the blogosphere in minutes.
Newspapers are now updating their websites with stories that will appear in the morning paper the night before, making it easy to read it free. It’s a way of getting people to revisit their site rather than finding the information at someone else’s.
They’ll find it free somewhere, so what choice do you have?
Both daily newspapers in Phoenix, Ariz. don’t send a beat reporter along with the Coyotes on the road, choosing instead to run with whatever story comes out on the news wire.
Sure, the Coyotes are second-fiddle to Phoenix’s other sports teams, but that sort of second-hand reporting is not likely to spark interest from new fans.
Nowadays, fans can watch or follow along with a game online, updating the results as they happen. They will have the final score immediately after the final buzzer goes in the arena, and they can tune in to their late-night TV sports show for all the highlights.
The morning newspaper always has been a means of fleshing out the story, and getting other viewpoints and details on the game itself. Ultimately, the score of the game has become public knowledge long before the newspaper hits your doorstep—but there’s something about a newspaper that invokes discussion and provides information that simply can’t be packed into a two-minute sports highlight package.
The local newspaper and the beat writer are the lifeblood between the fans and the teams, providing news from the “front lines” which people can digest and interpret in their own way.
The newspaper’s sports section always has been more about the story behind the story, with detailed quotes from players and coaches and informative background on the game that is hard to pack into other mediums.
If you just want the score and who did what, you can find that out anywhere.
But in today’s world of instant news, people are reluctant to take the time to really dig into a newspaper, choosing instead to seek out the bare-bones information elsewhere and move on to their next reality TV show.
News is everywhere and it seems people are less able or willing to read and commit time to the newspaper medium—at least in big-city markets. It’s clearly a different story in smaller communities, which rely on the newspaper as a source of local content they can’t access online.
But the scary thing is that continued cutbacks are stretching our industry too thin, and soon we may see stories about local sports events being written by people who weren’t even there in person.
Is that insincere journalism? I’d be inclined to say yes, but nowadays the reporter has access to more information than ever before, and can piece together things from various sources and probably dupe the readers into thinking he or she actually was seated in the arena press box.
In the end, the difficult task of keeping the newspaper medium alive will be about finding a way to generate online income from those who want to read the material. Whoever comes up with a successful model for that certainly will be poised to control the marketplace.
I remain optimistic the content newspapers provide is something people won’t be willing to let rot in the trash can (either on your computer or under your sink).
Let’s hope I’m right.

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