A newspaper resurrection

The world’s oldest still-published newspaper, Sweden’s Post- och Inrikes Tidningar, founded in 1645, is going out of print today. But it’s not dying. It’s moving to the web. Before we read too much into this for the fate of newspapers around the world, note that this was a paper carrying official announcements, bankruptcies, and such. It’s not the Aftonbladet.

In various year-end prognostications, some have been predicting that a major paper will cease publication and shift to the internet this year: see Scott Karp and Wired. Howard Owens disagrees and so do I. It will come, but not yet, for there is still profit to be made in print and sluggish advertisers still aren’t ready to support the new medium — even if that’s where their customers are — and shut-down costs remain high. I think that within, say, five years, we could see a paper make a strategic move entirely online. But if such a shift comes in the meantime, I think it will be the result of bankruptcy, not strategy: Just as some magazines have folded but supposedly lived on online, so will we see this as a last-ditch effort to keep a brand and business alive.

What’s more likely, I think, is that someone will come along and start a new news business online, backed by venture or mogul money, that competes with and perhaps even kills an old-style publication with far lower costs and greater efficiency and — thanks to networked journalism — greater reach of coverage. In short: local Googles. I think we’re focusing too much on the old entities of an industry and not enough on the industry as a whole: The big, old companies failed to own the new world online; they were passed by new ventures. I expect to see new news ventures starting.

[Disclosure: Though I’m involved in a new news venture, Daylife, but I’m not including it in this prognostication; I’m talking about new, local reporting and news-gathering-and-sharing enterprises.]

: See also Lucas Grindley and Owens having a good argument in the comments here.

: See also David Carr sittin’ round the ol’ cracker barrel today reminiscin’ about the good ol’ days when everybody started the day readin’ newspapers.

As I sat at the kitchen table, I marveled at the low price of a newspaper that had once preoccupied the conversation around my dinner table. Then I looked at the four papers on the table and the empty chairs that surrounded them. Before my second cup of coffee, the rest of my household had already started the day in a way that had nothing to do with the paper artifacts in front of me. Maybe I was the greater fool.

Kinda sad, eh?

  • As a longtime print journalist, I was very interested to hear about the Swedish paper. I do believe that newspapers’ days are numbered but I still think the demise of a major paper is a few years off. Although I am online a lot, I still like reading a paper. I’m 48. My colleague at the publication I now edit is 33. He almost exclusively reads his news online. Very telling….

  • Real sad.

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  • Hasan Jafri

    Like Rhea I am a print journalist but had stopped reading print newspapers altogether. Then I came to Hong Kong from Seattle a few months ago and noticed Asia is stuck in time. It will be really interesting to see how the “death of newspapers” pans out here in the “Orient,” where dead tree paper still rule the roost.

    Hong Kong not only reads the South China Morning Post (SCMP) which claims to be the world’s most profitable newspaper per capita (they’ve come up with a statistic to measure Hong Kong’s per capita ad revenue) the Post’s ownership also is all-powerful.

    It sequesters virtually ALL SCMP web content behind a pay wall bigger than the Great Wall of China. Last month, a personnel dispute between Mark Clifford, the Woodwardian-era American-brand of print journalist who has become the paper’s editor, and the polyglot (think Chinese, Indian, Australian, Sri Lankan) editorial staff went pretty much unreported by the local media. Clifford summarily fired some senior journalists and and his actions would have remained unknown to the larger world were it not for the IHT, which covers the Hong Kong beat thoroughly and called the incident a “clash of cultures” in the newsroom.

    My favorite SCMP moment, though, came a couple of weeks ago when one of Hong Kong’s leading internet providers, Netvigator, whose owner has ties with the paper’s owner, started blocking access to Not The South China Morning Post (NTSCMP.com) a rival site that lampoons the SCMP. Charges of censorship flew across the Hong Kong blogosphere, and soon Netvigator — which also happens to be my internet provider — was obliged to stop censoring NTSCMP.com

    A small victory for freedom of the press in a place where that freedom is first and foremost oppressed by media dinosaurs like the SCMP. Watch Asia for some real fisticuffs between old and new media.

  • Thanks for the link, Jeff.

    I saw a European publish on Charlie Rose the other night (sorry, blanking out on his name — he’s Irish) and the views readership decline, pretty much, and an American thing. It isn’t happening in other parts of the world. Interesting …

    I think the biggest threat to newspapers is blogs … nibbled to death … more and more bloggers are making money, more and more are doing original reporting, more and more are entering the local markets. That should be more of a concern than investors putting together a concerted effort in a local market (though LA is ripe for it). I’m not talking, btw, about the straw man of blogs that MSM reporters like to dismiss and ignore, but blogs of substance, and there are many, that MSM journalists ignore to their own detriment.

  • You are quite correct that Post & Inrikes Tidningar is very marginal indeed in Sweden. But sure, there are hard times ahead for the print editions of Sweden’s large dailies. At Aftonbladet I hope and think we’ll do fine, but for the smaller ones this will be tough. As anywhere, of course.

  • Terry Smith

    The Pinky and the Brain people are now kicking themselves that they didn’t get http://www.poit.org first.

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  • B

    I’d have to add that this move wasn’t initiated by the editor but by the new conservative government of Sweden. It is propably more of a political move than economic necessity.

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