News vs. newspapers

Still thinking about Clay Shirky’s latest discussion of the newspaper business. His basic contention is that a newspaper is an arbitrary collection of things designed to sell advertising. I agree. Newspapers always argue for their centrality in terms of the metro desk: investigative reporting, holding politicians to account. In reality, what sells the paper (and therefore the advertising) is the sports, the comics, the TV listings, and the coupons.

This, actually, is not entirely unlike the library business. Public libraries (and to a lesser extent academic ones) think of themselves as being for public information and education…when in fact what they do most of the time is loan DVDs and best-sellers. It’s OK–I’m a librarian, I can say these things.

I’d like to pay for the metro section of my local paper, the Boston Globe, without having to get a bunch of other stuff with it. Most national and international news, even there, comes from the AP, which I can get directly a couple of ways. I have the entire Internet for lifestyle, and could really not care less what my local movie critic thinks.

I’m currently paying ten bucks a month for the Kindle edition of The Economist, which is about the same as the intro print subscription price. The chief benefit of the format, from my perspective anyway, is that there are no ads.

Again via Shirky, the ads are what created newspapers. I’d be perfectly happy to pay $50-$100 a year for professional news about my community’s business, but I suspect that if that would pay the bills it would have already happened. I also suspect, however, that newspapers are trying to figure out not how to survive, but how to survive while making double-digit profits like they traditionally have.

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Boston area academic librarian and instructional designer. News junkie. Fan of marine mammals, October.