Monday, December 22, 2008

Print's Not Dead (Yet): Washington Post, Others React to the Market

Last Monday morning I couldn't find a newspaper to same my life. Perhaps a coincidence, or something more significant, ominous. It was the same day the Washington Post annoucned that it would raise the cost of a daily paper from 50¢ to 75¢. The previous price increase had the paper rise from 35¢ to 50¢. The company will not change the $1.50 price for the Sunday paper. However, home subscriptions are generally down for the Post, prompting the move. Advertising dollars are also down relative to past decades.

The change comes as papers all over the nation are struggling. Cable TV, internet, and other forces are changing the way people get news and what we consider consumable as "news." The Washington Biz Journal also notes that the Post changes coincide with the decision of the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News to restrict home delivery to only three days a week. This news follows a decision two months ago by the Christan Science Monitor to publish online only.

My partial theories regarding the downfall of print:

1. Information age. We are living out the tail end of the information age. The information age emphasizes massive knowledge (facts) collection and de-emphasizes analysis and synthesis. Knowing more facts is valued over knowing appropriate and useful facts. We are trained to want shorter news stories or just headlines and reserve the right to delve deeper, often choosing not to. Frivolous local stories seem to grab attention away form even the most dire world events. Two stories, a car crash in Indiana and an ATM robbery in Texas both were listed as top national stories last week on

2. Craigslist. I love the site, but offering free classified listings killed a source of income newspapers had relied on for decades. No one under 30 uses an actual newspaper to look for apartments or a new job. There are hundreds of free websites for those tasks.

3. 24 hour news cycle. Often the front page of our papers seem dated, even though the news and photos printed are less than one day old. They may even have been stories from late last night. However, with the internet and 24 hour cable news channels, we may know the basics about a "breaking" story today, and not bother to read the story in tomorrow's print piece. Often the print piece is more accurate and factual than the "breaking news," especially online, but since the collection of, and not quality of, facts is emphasized, we decide not to invest in the paper.

Be thankful that we have many local and hyper local papers in DC. Here are a few available on the streets of Mount Pleasant: The In Towner, Dupont Current, Northwest Current, Afro-American, DC North, Washington Blade, El Tiempo Latino and the Washington Hispanic.