Ever since the internet began exploding in popularity in the mid-1990s, pundits have predicted that it would eventually present serious challenges to daily newspapers. We're in the midst of seeing those challenges reach a crisis point.
Along with a sinking economy, the internet is reducing daily newspaper profits and causing layoffs, and in some cases, it's leading to the demise of print publications. Newspapers are facing the double whammy of shrinking ad revenue and shrinking readership.
The news has been grim:
Things could get much worse, opines Tim Oren at his Due Diligence blog (www.due-diligence.typepad.com). He's calling what may happen the "Newspaper Crash of 2009."
For newspaper readers, the most pronounced consequences of the newspaper malaise are fewer articles available to read with their morning coffee, more news and feature stories by writers from the national news services instead of local reporters, and the loss of favorite columnists.
The flip side is the availability of more sources of news and opinion online, one reason for newspapers' problems. Newspapers' own websites are among those sites that are benefiting. These websites attracted a record number of visitors in 3Q 2008, a 15.8% increase over the same period a year ago, according to a recent Nielsen Online report (www.nielsen-online.com).
The most popular news sites, though, are not associated with newspapers. The top four sites in terms of the number of visitors, according to Nielsen's latest figures, are MSNBC (www.msnbc.msn.com), Yahoo! News (http://news.yahoo.com), CNN (www.cnn.com), and AOL News (http://news.aol.com). The New York Times' website (www.nytimes.com) is fifth.
Unlike printed daily newspapers, most news sites are free, a major attraction, though some news sites follow the increasingly standardized web model of offering additional services for a fee.
Reading news online versus reading the print version of the news, as anyone who has compared the two knows, has advantages as well as disadvantages. One feature that is seen as both positive and negative is personalization.
With the internet, you can not only personalize how you want the news delivered to you (i.e., to your web browser's homepage or to your web-enabled cell phone), you can also personalize what news you see.
This convenience lets you eliminate what you consider irrelevant to your needs. But it also has the potential of diminishing society's core of shared information. Critics contend that with less connecting us to one another, intolerance and xenophobia may increase.
Internet news has modest entry barriers; anyone is able put up a news-flavored site or to distribute an email-based newsletter. This democratization of news (a good thing) can compromise professionalism and credibility (a bad thing).
Despite the criticism journalism often receives, some of it deserved, professional efforts are worth patronizing. Journalists are trained to distinguish news from rumor and self-promotion, to recognize when a story that hasn't been told needs to be, to dig out relevant information, to make the complex clear, and to check their facts.
Reid Goldsborough is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania.