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October 23rd, 2016

The Weekly Archive: Understanding Newspapers Original Sin

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The media’s favorite pastime is to report, analyze and pontificate … on itself.

Journalists love to hear themselves talk. We are notorious windbags. I am no exception to this rule. And as the newspaper industry has come tumbling down in the last 20 years, there has been no end to the self-doubt, recrimination, analysis and finger pointing.

Over the years, the newspaper industry has generally coalesced into the notion that the Web and its digital titans—Google and Facebook et al.—have been responsible for the decline o its most hallowed institutions.

But one respected media reporter posits a different theory:

Digital didn’t kill newspapers on its own, but rather the focus by newspapers on digital over print is what brought down the industry.

Jack Shafer wrote in Politico this week:

“What if the industry should have stuck with its strengths—the print editions where the vast majority of their readers still reside and where the overwhelming majority of advertising and subscription revenue come from—instead of chasing the online chimera?”

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Shafer’s argument, based on a research paper out of the University of Texas, is that the newspaper industry should have focused on buttressing the cash cow of print and eschewed the digital revolution entirely.

The guffaw to Shafer’s column could be heard on thousands of journalists’ Tweetdecks across the country.

The debate has centered on the “original sin” of the newspaper industry when it came to the rise of the Web. Shafer thinks that the aggressive move into digital, at the expense of print, was original sin. If you watched how newspapers have tried to deal with the Web over the years, the common concerns were on timing (do you “scoop” the print edition by publishing to the Web first?), business models, quality of editorial on print versus the Web and so forth.

To pay wall or not to pay wall?

What if Shafer’s fever dream was actually how the newspaper industry played it out?

In reality … almost nothing would be different.

If newspapers created a cabal against digital, that wouldn’t have stopped the rise of digital media. It likely would have spurred it. Arianna Huffington would have still built the Huffington Post. Michael Arrington would have still started TechCrunch. Richard MacManus would have still created ReadWriteWeb and Pete Cashmore would have still built Mashable. Ezra Klein, long of the Washington Post, would have probably started Vox.com earlier than he did. It wouldn’t have stopped me from building ARC (one of my greater regrets is not getting into the world of digital media earlier than I did).

The resistance of the newspaper industry would not have stopped the rise of social media or the Web 2.0 era of blogging, the great democratizing of millions of voices around the world.

My former colleague (at failed local news Internet startup called TBD.com in D.C.) Steve Buttry, one of the most respected media voices around, responded to Shafer:

“The colossal mistake that the newspaper industry made was responding to digital challenges and opportunities with defensive measures intended to protect newspapers, and timid experiments with posting print-first content online, rather than truly exploring and pursuing digital possibilities,” Buttry wrote.

Yes, instead of being “too aggressive” moving into digital, the sin was really being too defensive. Buttry has seen it first hand at the likes of Project Thunderdome at Digital First Media and by visiting more than 100 newsrooms around the country.

While the newspaper industry was running the defensive tactics, it let entrepreneurs pick the low hanging fruit of the digital world. Craig Newmark destroyed the cash-minting newspaper classified vertical with Craigslist. Job listings went to startups like Monster.com and later LinkedIn. Comics and cartoons went online on their own sites giving rise to greats like The Oatmeal and XKCD. Some people still prefer do the New York Times crossword in pen, but games like crosswords and Sudoku are now the realm of websites and dedicated apps.

Media reporter Mathew Ingram at Fortune wrote, “sticking with print would not have helped newspapers avoid death.”

In retrospect, maybe nothing could.

Weekly Archive Links Of The Week

TESLA … made a big announcement this week about how it will ship new models of its cars with all the hardware needed to, eventually, become full self-driving vehicles.

YET … the director of the Mobility Transformation Center at the University of Michigan told a group of reporters (including ARC) earlier this month why Tesla can definitely not car its cars self-driving.

IT’S A CAR … kind of week. ARC outlines the tiers of evolution for the automated, autonomous and driverless vehicle.

BELIEVE IT … or not, but the Mobile Revolution has distinctly influenced the future of mobility in transportation, connected and autonomous cars. ARC will have a couple more autonomous car stories coming early next week.

CHINA … created $1.7 billion in App Store revenue in the third quarter, according to App Annie.

MICROSOFT … has long been proud of its speech recognition artificial intelligence engine. Now it claims to have achieved human parity.

NEW ARC RESEARCH … focusing on the best retail and ecommerce apps in France.

ALEXAplease fact check Donald Trump for me.

TECH … spending will grow by 5.1% in 2017. That is fairly significant for a market so big.

SOME … tips and tricks for retailers to communicate with shoppers this holiday season.

SPEAKING … of the holidays, Americans will spend $36 billion on gadgets this season.

AT&T … has reached an agreement to buy Time Warner for $85 billion. I doubt this one gets through regulators, but AT&T keeps trying to become the monopoly it once was.

SOME OF … the Internet went down on Friday because of a DDoS. Brian Krebs tells us what happened.

ARC will be in Las Vegas this week for the Money 20/20 conference. Reach out if you have something interesting in the FinTech world you think might interest us.

Take deeper breaths, think bigger thoughts.

Dan Rowinski
Editor-in-Chief
ARC – The Application Resource Center