The decline of newspapers: nothing to do with journalism again

October 8, 2008

Jeff Jar­vis has three shots in his revolver for Paul Farhi, Roy Greenslade and yours truly over at Buzzma­chine.

Here’s my reply from the comments:

The point I was mak­ing way back when [link above], was that many journ­al­ists (and their crit­ics) are quick to explain the decline of news­pa­per cir­cu­la­tion and broad­cast news rat­ings in terms of ‘moral fail­ure’ by journ­al­ists and journalism.

Let me reverse your pro­pos­i­tion. Would you explain the rising num­ber of news­pa­per sales from the late 19C to the mid-20C by point­ing to the qual­ity of the journ­al­ism being pro­duced and the journ­al­ists churn­ing it out? I think I would start with urb­an­isa­tion, pop­u­la­tion growth, lit­er­acy, indus­trial pro­cess innov­a­tion, dis­tri­bu­tion etc.

If you hon­estly think journ­al­ism was more import­ant than any of those, then go ahead — make the case. Because it’s exactly the same — as we Brit­ish would say — ‘arse-about-face’ case you’re mak­ing above.

There are strategies for suc­cess in declin­ing mar­kets. The Wash­ing­ton Post is repos­i­tion­ing itself as an edu­ca­tion com­pany. Journ­al­ists and news execs are not pass­ive play­ers in the eco­nomy, but neither are we the cause or the drivers of chan­ging pat­terns of enter­tain­ment and inform­a­tion consumption.

And if you want to look at news­pa­pers’ rela­tion­ship with read­ers don’t crank out trust! Trust in media [and, no, I didn’t plug the book on his blog] is pos­it­ively cor­rel­ated with con­sump­tion, so it pretty much tells you what you already know.

There will be win­ners and losers ahead, but in aggreg­ate, I’ll bet you there will be fewer people read­ing news­pa­pers in the United States in five years time than there are today.

But judging by cur­rent news, there will still be more read­ers than invest­ment bankers…

++UPDATE++

Mr Jar­vis replies:

For­get about news­pa­pers as a product. Think of it in terms of journ­al­ism as a ser­vice. There are so many ways to update this ser­vice but it was held back by think­ing as a product. The ana­logy to a cen­tury ago is: Wow, look at this great new thing com­ing out — cheap print­ing. Look at what we can do with that! Let’s have at it! What amaz­ing oppor­tun­it­ies!
That’s not what I heard. You?