The Titanic Tribune

The news about newspapers has been unremittingly bleak in recent days. The Rocky Mountain News.  Chicago Tribune.  Minneapolis Star/Tribune.  Going bankrupt or shutting down altogether.

And now we read that the Chicago Sun-Times has announced that it, too, is filing for bankruptcy.

Even more depressing than these reports is reading about the tactics some news organizations are adopting in order to roll out a new business model that’ll supposedly keep their brand “on the beat.” So now we discover that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is going all-digital. The Hartford Courant is sharing its staff with two local TV stations and combining newsgathering duties. And the Detroit Free Press is cutting home delivery to three days a week.

This is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Strip away the flurry of activity and it all boils down to this: How many consumers really need newspapers anymore? Sure, there may be a smidgen of news in the paper that can’t be found (easily) on the Internet. But the issue is really one of preference and behavior.

Ask yourself: Who do you personally know who subscribes to your daily city paper? How old are they? I’d be surprised if they were born after 1950. And while the over-60 set may still prefer the ritual of reading the paper over a morning cup of coffee (a paper they paid for, no less), that’s a scenario one encounters less and less in the rest of the population.

The fact is, people want quick access to the news when and where they need it. Usually in short information bursts. On the go or at their desk … but far less often in an easy chair at home. The online sites of newspapers can provide this, of course, but so can so many other sources. No longer the big kids on the block with little competition and huge barriers to entry preventing others from encroaching on their turf, today’s newspaper publishers must clamor for attention among a gaggle of other online outlets – most of whom know how to play the game a whole lot better.

Darwin … or dinosaurs? The final verdict may not yet be in. But we already know how this is going to turn out.

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