Will we stop the presses … for good?
January 28, 2005
Cockroaches. Spam cans. Editors.
All three could pretty easily survive the apocalypse, or at least the coming of the truly digital age.
We all face the question of whether our jobs will still be viable 10, 20, 30 years down the line. But for newspaper folks, it’s an especially tough question. Sometimes I gaze at the mountains of costly paper rolls piled to the ceiling of The Union’s warehouse, or watch the Industrial Revolution-era process of printing our papers. I wonder if this is how it felt to work at a vinyl record factory in the late ’80s.
Now, as a I mentioned before, I’m pretty confident in my job security. As long as there are humans around, they will make mistakes, and folks like me – and you all, too – will be there to point and snicker.
But how much longer will there be an actual printed product, a newspaper in the traditional sense of the word?
When will the presses stop rolling and our building turn into a set of cubicles with nothing but a broadband connection, a coffee maker and a frazzled IT manager?
Looking just at The Union, it’s hard to tell.
Our Web site – http://www.TheUnion.com – skyrocketed in 2004, when our unique visitors increased 49 percent. But there’s no exodus from the print edition, either. We saw growth in home delivery, as well.
I decided to turn to some of my colleagues to get their takes, partly because I was curious, but partly because I’m lazy. Oh, copy and paste, how I love thee.
For some reason, the toilet was a recurring theme.
From Jeff Ackerman, our publisher:
“In a crude way, I think printed newspapers will exist so long as there are toilets and subways. Besides … try wrapping your fish, or training a puppy, or lining a birdcage with a laptop or Palm Pilot.
“I tend to agree with New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, who predicts that, ‘Within our lifetimes, the distribution of news and information is going to shift to broadband,’ and that we must enter the broadband world having mastered the three key skill sets – print, Internet, and video.
“We are not in the newspaper business. We are in the information business.”
From Mike Witherow, our Web editor:
“As the technology continues to advance, digital offerings will get better, and more and more will access the newspaper electronically. I think it will be slow shift, but by the time there’s something that works in the bathroom, I think most people will be ready to switch over.”
Straying from the bathroom theme, Webmaster Dayna Amboy seems pretty sure that the digital domain will prevail:
“You can do things online that you can’t in print, such as get breaking news, search online archives and interact in polls, blogs, etc. From the newspaper’s perspective, the delivery is much less expensive online than is the current method of printing papers and delivering them to readers’ doorsteps.
“The cyber vs. fiber issue is just getting started. Readers are slowly but surely making the shift from print to online, and advertisers will follow. Once the revenue stream is transferred online, the ‘deadwood’ edition will be just that.”
But will it stay free? Probably. And that’s not as surprising as it might sound.
As Dayna mentioned, much of our costs are from running the presses, delivering the papers across the county, etc. Without those, advertising could make news a free commodity for the readers. But some great people would lose their jobs in the process.
OK, we got a little philosophical today, so I’ll end on a proper note:
A monkey walks into a bar and asks, “Got any bananas?” Bartender says, “Sorry fella.” The monkey thinks a moment and says, “Got any bananas?” Bartender raises his voice and says, “We have no bananas! Just beer and pretzels.” So the monkey pauses again and says, “Got any bananas?”
“If you ask me for bananas again, I’ll staple your tongue to the counter!”
Monkey pauses. “Got any staples?”
“Got any bananas?”
David Griner is interim managing editor of The Union and a monkey joke aficionado. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 477-4230.
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