Is It Time To Panic For Newspapers? Hell Yes!

That’s my take after hearing a lecture by Professor Michael Schudson of Columbia University, recipient of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, a Guggenheim Fellow and known as one of the brightest bulbs in the journalism research and education.
It may not be what Schudson intended me to take away from his lecture at Indiana University the other night, though.
“If you think I have a crystal ball as to where newspapers are going, I don’t have an answer,” Schudson said at the start of his talk.
To Schudson, there are three major scenarios for the future of the newspaper industry.
restoration of the advertising model,
online with pay walls, and
newspapers on a diet with supplements.
Restoration, Schudson said, isn’t going to happen with the downturn of the economy and Craig’s list monopolizing the classified ad market. Online pay walls won’t survive because who’s going to keep people from forwarding stories they like to others? Which leaves what he calls “newspapers on a diet with supplements.”
So what does this mean? Newspapers on a diet means just like it sounds: Newspaper are going to continue to limp by on less — cutting staff, reducing print production to one or two days a week, eliminating home delivery. And until they can come up with a viable business model, they will supplement with whatever online features they can come up with. The bottom line is that newspapers as we have known them prior to 2008 are a thing of the past.

The encouragement this towering figure in journalism education offered the journalism students in the audience — the future of journalism — was especially telling. Mom and Dad may prefer you look at computers, accounting, premed or law, Schudson told them. But newspaper journalism isn’t the only profession that doesn’t have a business model. Modern dance doesn’t have one. And neither does acting. And yet people do these things. They just have to have the passion.
I spoke with Professor Schudson briefly after his lecture and asked what he thought of the blogosphere as a place for journalists to ply their trade. He sees professional blogging as one of the supplements in his “newspapers on a diet” model. I asked him about, the micro local news website recently purchased by AOL. He knew they pay their journalists, but beyond that, he knew little about it. I asked what he thought of social media. To my shock — he said his son suggested he should go online and look at it.
My take on his lecture? It may not be what this MacArthur Fellow wanted me to take away, but as I see it, print newspapers should panic: The future– at least for any business, government agency, or non-profit seeking to convey news of its activities to a target audience – is not in newspapers. It’s online in many different shapes and forms. And that is the bottom line.

Jeff Ryan
Media Gofer, Inc.

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