Newspapers continue to decline.
Who wants yesterday’s papers?, the Rolling Stones asked in 1967, and the question is still valid.
It seems the answer is “nobody in the world”.
Journalists have been infantilized throughout the last decade, kept in a state of relative ignorance about the firms that employ them. A friend tells a story of reporters being asked the paid print circulation of their own publication. Their guesses ranged from 150,000 to 300,000; the actual figure was 35,000. If a reporter was that uninformed about a business he was covering, heâd be taken off the story.
This cluelessness is not by accident; the people who understand the state of the business often hide that knowledge from the workers. My friend Jay Rosen writes about the mediaâs âproduction of innocenceââââwhen covering a contentious issue, they must signal to the readers âWe have no idea whoâs right.â Among the small pool of journalists reporting on their own industry, there is a related task, the production of ignorance. When the press writes about the current dislocations, they must insist that no one knows what will happen. This pattern shows up whenever the media covers itself. When the Tribune Company recently got rid of their newspapers, the New York Timesran the story under a headline âThe Tribune Companyâs publishing unit is being spun off, as the future of print remains unclear.â
The future of print remains what? Try to imagine a world where the future of print is unclear: Maybe 25 year olds will start demanding news from yesterday, delivered in an unshareable format once a day. Perhaps advertisers will decide âClick to buyâ is for wimps. Mobile phones: could be a fad. After all, anything could happen with print. Hard to tell, really.
Contrary to the contrived ignorance of media reporters, the future of the daily newspaper is one of the few certainties in the current landscape: Most of them are going away, in this decade. (If you work at a paper and you donât know whatâs happened to your own circulation or revenue in the last few years, now might be a good time to ask.) Weâre late enough in the process that we can even predict the likely circumstance of its demise.