The Detroit newspapers are not being delivered to homes today.
Is this evidence of the fall of newspapers, or a healthy sign of the re-birth of journalism in America?
Only time will tell.
The idea that newspapers can survive as a new paper/online mix that emphasizes daily news on the Web and a print edition only two or three times a week, is not that far-fetched.
Actually, it fits my personal news reading habits these days. I often skip my daily newspaper and catch up on the news on-line when I have time. The papers sometimes pile up for days.
But two or three times a week, when I do have time, I prefer to curl up with my dead tree version of the news. It has so many advantages over a computer – portability and serendipity being the most obvious.
So while I was initially critical of the experiment by the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, and also reacted negatively to the announcement by Michigan’s Booth Newspapers of similar plans, I’m now rethinking.
For most American newspapers, I think the move would be premature. As long as people want a daily newspaper delivered to their homes, I think media companies should continue providing it. It seems, at first glance, to be insane for the Detroit and Ann Arbor papers to politely decline to deliver the daily paper, even though tens of thousands are willing to pay for it.
But I understand what they’re aiming at. The status quo isn’t working. Newspaper profitability is declining, exacerbated by the recession.
News that is timely and important, I’ve usually read online before my printed paper arrives (or I get home to read it).
Much of the content of the paper isn’t that timely. When I read it three days late, I still enjoy it. I’m glad when I find a good article about progress in treating diabetes, or political turmoil in Africa, or a neighbor with an interesting hobby. I would never read those stories on-line, but I’m drawn to them when I turn the newspaper page.
Since most people are now using both methods – along with TV, radio, cell phones, etc., to get the news - why not search for a better blend of online and print that allows cost cuts but retains the essential ingredient – good journalism.
Of course, one of the problems with this scenerio comes when there is big news on a day the newspaper is not delivering. It was probably inevitable that would happen on the first day of Detroit’s experiment, with the big GM announcement and Michigan State making the Final Four.
Oh, well. I’m rooting for the Detroit, Ann Arbor and other newspaper experiments. Whether they have the right model or not remains to be seen. It’s not a bad thing that they’re experimenting.
If this approach can save local journalism in Detroit and Ann Arbor – reporters covering the news of government and community – then it’s a good thing.
I’m just glad the Monroe Evening News is still delivered to my doorstep daily. It’s still my decision whether I read the print or online version .
In Detroit, readers no longer have that choice, and Ann Arbor readers will lose that choice this summer.