Out of Print

Long piece in New Yorker about the coming death of the printed newspaper:

Three centuries after the appearance of Franklin’s Courant, it no longer requires a dystopic imagination to wonder who will have the dubious distinction of publishing America’s last genuine newspaper. Few believe that newspapers in their current printed form will survive. Newspaper companies are losing advertisers, readers, market value, and, in some cases, their sense of mission at a pace that would have been barely imaginable just four years ago…


A nice potted history of the American newpaper, and some rambling analysis, which somehow manages to avoid what is a key question – that being, “what is a newspaper?”  For some reason, “print on paper” is equated with “properly resourced journalism” and Anderson’s imagined communities in ways that overstate (in my mind anyway) the media specificity of print. But then, I would say that 🙂


5 comments so far

  1. Mark Thwaite on

    Quick question for you Sherman: as the number of newspapers sold has been dropping, here in the UK the number of freesheets (free newspapers given away on the street and in the tube and bus stations — of differing quality but some decent enough tabloids) has absolutely sky-rocketed (the cause of a great deal of new litter — but that is another issue!)

    Do you think this is just a last gasp for newspapers? Or do you think that printed freesheets have a real (short/medium term) future?

  2. shermanfyoung on

    Hi Mark

    It’s a bit the same here – there’s a bunch of free newspapers (both suburban rags designed to shift real estate ads and metropolitan dailies for the train commuters). I think your question probably demands a bigger question though. Whilst I suspect the freebies will have a medium-term future (at least until, as Scott Adams suggests everyone has a web browser in their pocket) I don’t think they are “newspapers” except in physical form. It all depends on what we think newspapers are. The Anderson idea that they (together with novels) allow us to imagine the nation probably doesn’t hold true for (in this town) Mx. Although things like (in my suburb) The Southern Courier might play that role for a much more localised community.

    As well, the other role of the modern newspaper (significant journalism) is not a space those free rags even try to play in. In other words, they are a (last?) gasp for selling ads printed on paper, but probably have very little to do with what I’d like newspapers to actually be or do. (Where that might be happening is another discussion altogether)

    So, my (provocative) response is that whilst they might look like chooks, and smell like chooks, the freebies have very little to do with chooks. Or newspapers for that matter 🙂 My 5 cents – happy to keep debating…

  3. shermanfyoung on

    I should add that the newspaper market in the UK is very different from Australia. I also feel like I’ve entered an incredibly news-literate culture when I get off the train from Heathrow (Heathrow itself is another matter :-). So I may be doing your free rags a disservice.

  4. Mark Thwaite on

    Hi Sherman,

    Good to talk!

    I’m no particular defender of the MSM (mainstream media), but the biggest freesheet in the UK (as I understand — I live hundreds of miles away from London and work from home, so I’m not the best commenter on this!)is Metro. It is at least as good as many other tabloids — indeed, to my eye, less trashy (and less sexist ie zero nipple count as Metro is aware of large, female commuter market) than many of them.

    There is precious little investigative journalism anywhere (and pro-online folk like us have to remember that most all the news read online actually comes from a very few sources: check the source of your news and most always its Reuters or the BBC!) and certainly Metro doesn’t fill the gap. But it gives you the news and more, and the content doesn’t feel entirely arbitrary — by that I mean the content isn’t written just as an excuse for the adverts. The adverts, for sure, are an important feature — that is why it can be free …

    So, I do think Metro at least is a real “chook” — at least if we are allowing that other tabloids are real chooks! And if it is a real chook it shows that print can and has adapted, can have a future (even if a litter creating, eco-unfriendly one) and can add (a small amount of) real value: more commuters read newspapers now because they are free, these papers do have proper news in them ergo more commuters are more informed than before. And they are being informed by print …

  5. shermanfyoung on

    Hi Mark

    Living in a country where the so-called broadsheets are generally filled with news from the Guardian (or Reuters or AP etc), I’ve always been jealous of London’s print news culture. Our Our freebies are pretty awful even by tabloid standards.

    I’m not totally convinced that Metro (good as it may be) will have a long term future – depends on how much advertising revenue it manages to hang onto I guess!! (Buzzmachine has its usual take here)

    Cheers Sherman

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