As newspapers fade away, where do we fit?

Today is the 14th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. Where did I first hear about what was happening? Online. Then I turned on the TV. Eventually I read more about it in the Oregonian, but my main information came via screen. And that was over a decade ago. Information and communication have moved online so quickly. And why not? Why wait a day, a week or a month to get the news when you can get it instantly on your computer or smart phone?

Do you subscribe to a newspaper? To more than one? Or do you get all your news from TV and the Internet? If you’re one of the millions who no longer count on the “morning paper,” you’re not alone. A recent article by Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York, states that 2/3 of Americans don’t buy newspapers. That’s a big change from 1950, when he quotes Editor and Publisher as saying newspaper penetration was 124 percent, with some people buying multiple newspapers. Click the link and read his article. Pay particular attention to the graph that shows what’s happening with the newspaper biz. Then ask yourself how many people you know under 30 who regularly read a newspaper.

Newspapers are supported by advertising. A common misconception is that subscriptions pay the bills. No. Those annoying advertising sections from supermarkets, car dealers, and department stores pay the bills. Now, Jarvis says, a lot of those advertisers are taking their business online. Where does that leave newspapers? Screwed.

Where does that leave people who want to write for newspapers? You guessed it. Having published a book on the wonderful world of freelancing for newspapers, I hate to say it, but it’s a tougher world than ever for newspaper writers. Every paper I ever worked for in California is now owned by the same company. They need fewer reporters because the same articles can be shared throughout the chain. This is happening everywhere. You can still freelance if you look hard enough. Specialty papers—entertainment, antiques, sports, trade papers, parenting papers—still take freelance. You can still try to get into the remaining big-city dailies and the national stars like the New York Times and Washington Post. It happens. But freelancing for newspapers is not as easy as it used to be. And if you do want to write for newspapers, you need to start reading them.

The world is moving online and we need to move with it. I often wonder what will happen to all the writing stored on the Internet if the technology fails, but for now, take those writing skills wherever you can find an opening. Whether you’re reading a newspaper, magazine, or a file on your iPad, keep an eye out for opportunities. Most print publications also have online versions with space for more writing. Stories are stories, wherever they’re published. Take those skills and adapt to the new world.

What do you think about all this? Please share your thoughts in the comments. And if you want a copy of Freelancing for Newspapers, I’ll send you one for $10, including postage.

Now let’s go write.

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