Post-paper and after the tears

The great thing about Michael Hirschorn’s piece in the Atlantic about the death of the print New York Times is that it sees beyond the period of mourning and imagines what a post-paper Times could and should be. That’s what journalists should be doing – imagining a different – and perhaps even better – future.

“Ultimately, the death of The New York Times—or at least its print edition—would be a sentimental moment, and a severe blow to American journalism,” he says. “But a disaster? In the long run, maybe not.”

Hirschorn imagines many of the elements of the paperless paper that I also envision: more specializing, aggregation, collaboration. Individual brands – Friedman, Krugman, Sorkin – standing out on their own.

In an optimistic scenario, the remaining reporters—now reporters-cum-bloggers, in many cases—could use their considerable savvy to mix their own reporting with that of others, giving us a more integrative, real-time view of the world unencumbered by the inefficiencies of the traditional journalistic form. Times readers might actually end up getting more exposure than they currently do to reporting resources scattered around the globe, and to areas and issues that are difficult to cover in a general-interest publication.

I also love that he presents the model for the new Times as Huffington Post. The Times would surely quibble with that. But they’re not as far apart as they might seem. Both respect good reporting. As Arianna told Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in London a few months ago, the reason she hires reporters is because their stories get more traffic. The public, too, respects good reporting. So maybe the Times should buy the Huffington Post – or vice versa – and they can start to learn from each other now. Naw, that’s going too far.

But having this discussion about life and journalism post-paper is valuable and I’m glad it’s happening.

  • While Michael’s article is definitely worth the read, I think he has it exactly backward.
    Here’s the post that makes the argument that Printed Newspapers are the Next Big Thing.

  • If it happens it will not be a death,it will be a transformation and a new opportunity for journalism

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  • Thanks for the link: Hirschorn did a great analysis and provides an interesting outlook.

  • Warren-
    You got that right, but…suppose the NYT networked with HufPo. The way politico did with Reuters. NYT can print and deliver and create stuff they can sell. And journos can do journo.

  • Oh good lord. Anything for the Times but a “bigger, better, and less partisan” Huffington Post. As has already been stated, the Huffington Post‘s business model is basically cheap thievery. Aside from that, I think Hirschorn is pretty much dead on.

    What remains is to find a sustainable business model for enterprise, investigative, and beat reporting.

  • Warren-
    HuffPo has much lower overhead. Right you are about the print version of Politco. It’s a read for free pay for print kinda world. For the NYT their inventory is all the content since 189x whatever… I think they could repackage that as textbooks/newspapers and sell it to every K-12 in the US.

    The Reuters thing is a long tail. No extra overhead or investment> My bet is Reuters is putting in money to get a real chance to go at the AP.

  • Besides, I think the only way you make money on the web is buying selling stuff.
    Amazon, B&N, band sites that sell t shirts. New Yorker sells CD’s.

    No way that web ads are anything more than a nice extra to pay for the electricity, IMHO.

  • @ Michael
    “What remains is to find a sustainable business model for enterprise, investigative, and beat reporting.”

    National investigative reporting is being taken over by non profits with web sites. and many other issue focused outfits run by real researchers and full time experts. Another source, much neglected by the media is congressional hearings. It’s the only place people go to jail if they lie.

    Local beat reporting? My take is very low overhead print publications that sell local advertising that is beneath the radar of the traditional Newspaper. Mom and pop, small business, service organizations. Beat blogging seems to be a really good model so far. They make their contacts in the same environments in which they write their stories.

  • No disagreements, but this does press my “uh oh, it’s going to be all about the star-making machinery” fear button…

  • People,
    His name isn’t Warren. It’s a stupid joke. And I’ve tired of him. If he doesn’t come in with a real name, I think I will start spamming his comments just because it’s insulting.

  • Further on the point:
    Warren Jeffs is a child molester. So there’s no humor in taking the name. It is sick. So on that basis, I am killing all comments from someone who decides to take on the identity of a child molester. Enough.

  • “No way that web ads are anything more than a nice extra to pay for the electricity, IMHO.”

    Uh, gee, exactly where do Google’s revenues come from??

    • At scale you can make money. But a newspaper is not in the same business as Google.

      Google is very specifically not in the content business. They are in the infrastructure business. In addition to everything else, they have the biggest fastest computers on the planet.

      When newspapers were in the physical infrastructure business they made lots of money. If they try to support free content by advertising on the internet, I think they are going to lose. The price of advertising is just too low.

  • James Blackman

    “If they try to support free content by advertising on the internet, i think they are going to lose”

    So do I. Especially local papers. I can’t imagine a local newspaper online would get many hits.

    How would a local newspaper survive with only a web presence?

  • @James Blackman:

    I think local newspapers have a great advantage on the web. Their information is unique and not commoditized, and they probably have few competitors in the information gathering arena in their local markets. They have relationships with the local merchants who are relevant to the daily lives of their local readers. However, for these reasons they are also likely to be able to survive longer in print, at least in markets where the underlying economic conditions are healthy.

    Here in Bath, England, we have The Bath Chronicle which has been continuously published since the 18th Century. About a year ago it moved from daily publication (overkill anyway in this city of about 70,000 people) to weekly. The weekly edition is now more lively than ever and thick with advertising. The newspaper has recently won multiple awards as one of the best UK weekly newspapers.

    The Chronicle’s website,, has easily replaced the daily print edition and is probably the center of lively debate about community issues. And the best web comments get published in the newspaper every week. The importance of the Chronicle to the life of this city has probably only grown since their shift to weekly, and in large part thanks to their effective use of the web.

    Kind regards,
    Evan Rudowski

  • Andy Freeman

    > What remains is to find a sustainable business model for enterprise, investigative, and beat reporting.

    Do we have any examples of someone trying?

    Other than the WSJ, that is.

  • I won’t mourn the loss of slow, status quo, advertising-driven old media, but I am increasingly nervous about losing in-depth reporting. There is still something to be said for human beings telling good stories with professional rigor. So long as we can pay individuals to do reporting, the internet will be even better than newspapers. But if we trade in depth for pay-per-click sensationalism, we will have done society a disservice.

  • @ Evan,
    You say “And the best web comments get published in the newspaper every week. The importance of the Chronicle to the life of this city has probably only grown since their shift to weekly, and in large part thanks to their effective use of the web.”

    That makes very good sense to me. My question is could the web have done it without the weekly print paper? Is the primary revenue from the Paper or the Web? I’m betting the web creates the community and the news. But the Paper brings the news to everyone and the money into the organization.

    • Hello Michael,

      Without doubt, you’re right — the weekly print edition pays the freight. However, they have now eliminated six days worth of newsprint and distribution costs, while using the website to remain relevant throughout the week. And the debates on the website are vital to the community; there are some big issues here around historic preservation, building a new stadium for the rugby team, new traffic and transit plans and so on. With the website the newspaper facilitates a community dialogue that was not previously possible in print only. This makes the Chronicle as an institution more relevant. This must have a positive (if not easily measurable) impact on revenues too.

      Best wishes,
      Evan Rudowski

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  • This is off-topic. With all of your self-promotion activities, what time do you have to do your job — teaching graduate students journalism? I’d love to know where some of your students are working and/or what opportunities they have been afforded as a result of your teaching?

    Full Disclosure: I am a CUNY adjunct instructor in communication studies.

    • Well, that seems rather a hostile expression. But taking your comment instead at face value, what you term promotion I see as learning. Is writing a book promotion or – as you should see it in the academy – is it learning? Meeting with people in the industry and talking about their problems and solutions, I learn a great deal that I bring into the classroom. Knowing these people, I get to bring them into the classroom and events at the school. AndI’ve introduced students to them for jobs. How’s that?

      • I have no qualms with you writing a book. But I don’t see how it can be considered a “learning” experience for the students. With that said, I do know that students appreciate the real life experiences that professors bring to the classroom. What I am concerned about is balance.

        These are just the thoughts of an overburdened and underpaid CUNY employee who spends way too much time filling in the gaps to the benefit of her relatively well-paid full-time colleagues.

  • oh honey
    i’m so old fashioned
    i’m still mourning the death of the rotary phone

    i must say there is just nothing like sitting in an easy chair and reading
    the sunday new york times
    on the web
    just not the same
    never will be
    but alas
    some great magical things
    do just fade away

    such is life

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  • I disagree. Newspapers are not the “next big thing”. Everything is going online. The future of paper news sources is bleak.

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