"Newspapers are dying," the man insisted as though it was an age-old fact. I might have let it slide if not for his smugness about the industry in which I work. Newspapers are dying? How dare he? I write for a newspaper! I noticed a folded newspaper on a chair at the next table. On a bench nearby a woman sat reading a newspaper. There were several newspaper stands at the corner near the outdoor café in which we were sitting. The truth is, newspapers are everywhere.
After some back-and-forth about the future of print media, the man finally conceded the printed word is sacred, even though he reads all his news online and hasn't had a subscription to a newspaper in years. He reads my column, he added, also on the web. "But that still counts, right?" Yes, it counts, of course it counts.
I want to fight every time I hear someone say, "newspapers are dying." They're not dying, they're changing, and the sooner we realize that fact the better off we'll be. We means every person who steps outside in a bathrobe to pick up the paper from the front steps. We means anyone who clicks on a newspaper website, anywhere in the world, for any reason. We means every writer, reporter, editor and publisher. We means anyone who slides a few coins into a newspaper stand slot. We means everyone who subscribes only to the Sunday edition. We means the general newspaper-reading public, the people who don't feel right unless they know what's going on the world and appreciate a real, fact-based, painstakingly written editorial.
It's common knowledge newspapers have trimmed their staffs, cut costs and pages, and migrated online to stay afloat in the 2.0 world, but all media has gone that route. The internet streams information every second and no single outlet can compete with that breadth of reach. However, when you combine print and online figures, newspapers now enjoy larger readerships than ever before, and they originate much of the news that flies around the internet.
As the West was the old frontier and space is the final frontier, the internet is the current frontier, replete with endless space and infinite opportunity. The newspaper industry is only at the forefront of this era - exploring it and thriving in it requires a fresh perspective from both newspapers and their readers.
To be sure, the newspaper industry has made one near-fatal mistake: giving away its product for free. It's illogical; you must pay to read the paper in your hand but you can read it (and countless issues preceding it) online for no cost at all. Print magazines don't work that way; if you don't have a subscription, you can't read it online. Nobody questions it, as well they shouldn't. You pay for digital books. You pay to download music. Yet to many people it's inconceivable that newspapers shouldn't offer their unique and unparalleled product for free.
Putting out a daily newspaper requires a mountain of work from a skilled ensemble cast of khaki-clad, coffee-driven, truth-obsessed people who could make more money in other professions. They work hard every day, just like you, and they deserve their just rewards - for readers to pay a nominal fee for their efforts. Anyone who disagrees should give up their salary right now.
It's time for the "charge" of the newspaper brigade wherein every paper in the country bands together and charges for their special product. It's just part of the evolution of the industry, and although change is hard, people will come to accept it as naturally as they accept their own paychecks.
Next time you casually say, "newspapers are dying," try to picture the world without them. Newspapers are ingrained in our culture and remain a seminal part of our democratic identity. How different would our history be without Woodward and Bernstein? Something to think on while you pony up a few bucks per month to read a newspaper online.