Toward the end of a gloomy assessment of the newspaper business in today’s New York Times comes this:
The paradox is that more people than ever read newspapers, now that some major papers have several times as many readers online as in print. And papers sell more ads than ever, when online ads are included.
That’s more than a paradox. It’s salvation. The consensus view within the business, Times reporter Richard Pérez-Peña writes, is that “it could take five to 10 years for the industry’s finances to stabilize and that many of the papers that survive will be smaller and will practice less ambitious journalism.”
I think he’s right on the five- to 10-year time frame, but wrong that news sites (let’s not call them newspapers) will be less ambitious. Perhaps by “less ambitious” he means more focused on local news. That’s true. With a dozens of national and international news sites just a click away, major metropolitan newspapers are going to have to concentrate almost exclusively on local news, sports, business and the arts. But that’s not less ambitious — it’s just different.
The news business has been through several paradigm shifts since taking on a form we’d recognize beginning in the 1830s. The current one may be unusually wrenching. But it only looks like the end of the world because it happens to be the one we’re living through.