>Which way are newspapers headed?

>Today, I read an article about a newspaper in Cincinnati that has stopped publishing its print edition altogether. It will continue as an online publication only. Emphasis will be on breaking news, sports, and other non-feature items that don’t offer much work for freelancers. The article also noted that the remaining 50 staff members who had worked on the print edition will probably lose their jobs.
Also today, I read an item about the Morgan Hill (Calif.) Times, where I had my first full-time journalism job, celebrating the opening of its online version. Big change from the days I typed my stories on a typewriter and printed my photos with real chemicals in the darkroom. The Times site opens with red theater curtains and spotlights. Ta da! The print paper will still come out twice a week, and, to my knowledge, everybody still has a job. For me, living up here in Oregon, one benefit of the web edition was that I could get a clear picture of the havoc being wreaked by storms down there this week.
Meanwhile, the Parade section in my Sunday paper featured an interview with Benazir Bhutto telling about how she’s going to whip her country into shape. Unfortunately, Bhutto was assassinated two weeks ago. Apparently Parade is produced so far in advance there was no way to “stop the presses.” And yet, it seems as if they could have done something to acknowledge that the poor woman is dead. Similarly, the Monday paper said Britney Spears was in the hospital, when anybody who goes online or watches TV knew she had already been released.
The thing is, by the time print news reaches our driveways, everybody already knows the news, having heard about it online or on radio or TV. Even my father, who thinks computers are evil, has the TV on morning and night and knows more about what’s going on than I do.
So, where are we going with newspapers and what does it mean for freelancers? I recently read an American Journalism Review article that noted that while more and more newspapers are going online, the ad revenue they can get on the Internet doesn’t come close to what they earn for print ads. How can they compete with sites like Google and Yahoo, which also sell ads? As most journalists know, newspapers survive on advertising, not subscriptions. Web stories are faster, often cheaper, and have fewer time and space limitations, but if the company is losing money, what will be the ultimate result?
Newspapers are definitely in transition. Timewise, they can’t scoop the other media. They need to find a new role in the world, to do stories that take more time, that cannot be spewed out instantly, that people want to read and keep.
As freelancers, we need to remain alert to what is happening at the papers we want to write for. If they are cutting staff, maybe they have more opportunities for freelancers. Maybe those opportunities will be online instead of in print. Look for ideas that will work both ways. Be flexible.
Suddenly I’m reminded of the way my dad mushes all his food together on his plate. The meat, potatoes and peas all get blended into one big pile of food. Is that a crazy comparison? I’m not so sure. Journalism is getting all mushed together, too. The question is what if you just like the potatoes? No, the real question is how do we writers fit in?
What do you think? What do you look for in your newspaper and what do you look for online or from the broadcast media? How can you apply your answer to what you write?

For a fascinating discussion of these issues, check out this article, “Journalism at the Crossroads.”

Remember, don’t give up. Adapt.