The Speed of Information

Here’s the other reason the local newspaper is dying.

We all blame the internet, of course. We can get our news online, in a customized feed, and it’s instantaneous. It may not always be accurate, but we have accepted that; instead of accuracy we follow along for the moment-by-moment corrections and updates.

However, the demise started long before the internet changed the publishing model. The other reason the local paper is irrelevant is because those who make the news don’t need it as a distribution provider anymore.

Before you say that’s the same thing as the internet changing the model, let’s back up a bit.

I well remember the days when business people and politicians alike courted the newspaper. The local publisher was a top dog in the community, serving on area boards and treated as a celebrity. The editor was revered, and—the days of Mr. Grant (from The Mary Tyler Moore Show)—feared. The news teams chose what to cover, and you could beg and plead all day, but you quickly learned the old adage, “Don’t pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”

So a shift occurred, and business people, politicians, and others began looking for another way to spread the news that was important to them. Posters on telephone poles worked until poles began to be buried underground. Fax machines worked until technology replaced them. Email popped up and, once people got over their concerns over where the news was coming from, it became an accepted source of information.

Then, of course, we all started populating the internet and that brings us to today. But at least part of the reason we are here is because people needed a way to publish their own news.

As a young reporter, I looked for news everywhere—it didn’t come to me. I had to pitch ideas, provide the research, validate multiple sources, and verify my quotes. It took days to get a story together (weeks for series, and even months). Stories that were going to hit above the fold got assigned a photographer. There was a process.

Now, the process is one where few reporters spend much of their time sorting through news releases written in full and sent for greater distribution. The trouble for the paper is, they are no longer the only source of said distribution. We all publish them on our own organization websites and social media sites, where our followers know to find the latest reliable announcements. All those pieces of news the newspaper didn’t think fit to print in the old days, well, we now push out in some type of published form. We do it ourselves, and it’s at least in part because the newspapers didn’t do it for us.

Kind of makes you wonder…what else is controlled that the people are likely to take control of, assuming the tools are there? Is publishing the only field to experience this, or do some others need to sit up and take notice?