Hold my beer while I commit a little newspaper heresy.
I’m a newspaper man. It’s how I made my living for nearly 50 years. My veins might as well corse printers ink as blood.
I have subscribed to my daily newspaper for more than 40 years.
Every day I read the Gainesville Sun, the New York Times and USA Today, and I browse selected other news sources.
But I haven’t held an actual newspaper in my by-now un-inkstained hands for nearly a year.
No, I didn’t drop my subscription to the Sun. I just read it online.
At first I did it for the sake of expediency. My wife and I were doing so much traveling that we were frequently having to stop and restart home delivery.
Now we’re finding that we can read the Sun wherever in the world we happen to be without constantly bothering the circulation department.
And no, I don’t miss the feel of a physical newspaper in my hands. I believe that the true purpose of a “newspaper” is to feed our intellects, not give us yet one more reason to wash our hands.
And I’ll admit this, too. During my long career in journalism I often pondered the irony of cutting down whole forests so we could tell our readers about, oh, deforestation, climate change, environmental degradation and such.
Digital journalism means never having to say you are sorry.
I only bring this up now because, thanks to the coronavirus, some unsustainable newspaper business practices are becoming ever more unsustainable. Because of a drop in advertising the Tampa Bay Times just announced that it would only print an actual paper edition twice a week, while reporting the rest of the week’s news online.
Says Times CEO Paul Tash “while we are in the depths of this pandemic, we simply cannot afford to produce the ink-and-paper version every day.”
I’d like to believe that once the COVID19 thing ebbs, everything can go back to normal. But newspapers were losing advertisers and shedding staff long before the virus arrived, and I suspect they will continue to do so when it’s gone.
So what to do?
I think readers will always turn to their most trusted local news sources. And in most communities that means their local daily newspaper.
But I also think that the switch to all-digital-all-online-all-the-time news is probably inevitable and not a bad thing. Ink on paper is so last century.
I actually have two Sun apps on my devices. One is the app that allows you to read The Sun, page by page, just as though you are reading the honest-to-goodness newspaper.
The other app allows you to read constant updates as they are posted.
In other words you don’t have to wait for tomorrow to read today’s news. And we’re certainly learning how important that sort of immediacy is.
Ben Smith, the New York Times media columnist, believes the survival of news gathering may depend on moving “as fast as possible to a national network of nimble new online newsrooms.”
Smith’s main question is whether the future of news gathering should be left to for-profit or given over to non-profit hands. But either way the future of news is almost certainly going to be digital