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Death knell sounding for print papers

  • Author: Tom Brennan
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published December 26, 2008

Print newspapers are having a difficult time surviving and some are dropping all or part of their print editions. For the most part, it's not the result of their sins, however significant. Technology has simply made them obsolete and awarded the race to broadcast and online news outlets.

Calling them newspapers is something of a misnomer these days. By the time you get your paper in the morning, there isn't much real news in it, just elaboration on stories you heard before you went to bed the previous night. The lesser stuff, which fills the inside pages, is mostly material the broadcasters weren't interested in and didn't pursue.

The morning newspapers are cutting back on reporting staffs and relying increasingly on copy by wire services and tips from involved politicians. Reporting staffs like the Anchorage Daily News used to field for local news are expensive and difficult to support when ad revenues are sinking.

Newspapers are doing some good reporting for their own Web sites, but revenues there aren't yet large enough to support the kind of news staffs the papers had in their heyday.

The anchor around the neck of the home-delivered paper is the time lag between a reporter's submitting a finished story to an editor through its handling, printing, distribution and delivery. News is published online almost instantly, but unless the paper can be printed in your house, a significant time lag is inevitable. And so far, computers aren't convenient to read at the breakfast table.

The future could be with downloaded electronic newspapers like those e-books that are just beginning to catch on, but it's questionable whether technology can be developed in time, the papers can change and their readers retrained in time to save home deliveries.

If newspapers were held to truth-in-advertising standards, they would have to call themselves simply journals of interesting information. Without real news, that's all they can claim. Anchorage's largest newspaper (and only remaining daily) could more accurately be called the Anchorage Daily Flier.

In the old days, the broadcasters mostly just clipped what the newspapers wrote and read it over the air. That has changed and over-the-air news is often fresh, original and, best of all, live.

The Anchorage Daily News is something of a dinosaur, a liberal paper in a fairly conservative town in a generally conservative state. The Daily News is doing a good job with its Web site and - despite the continued presence of a few liberal reprobates on staff - its reporting seems to be moving more toward the political center.

It adds fresh stories online as they break, providing an incentive to check it several times a day. I really do hope the News makes it and - since it is still making a profit - the odds may be better than they appear at the moment.

Then there is the matter of biased reporting, which is not limited to the Daily News. In the old days, editors would shout at reporters caught including their opinions in stories, but nowadays it's standard for news to come with both facts and instructions on how to feel about them. Not a sin, necessarily, but the modern way of doing things. That makes it hard for news consumers to get unbiased information. Instead they need to find sources they trust and agree with, then be skeptical about everything they see and hear.

Though we geezers worry about such a drastic change in the news industry, the system doesn't seem to work all that differently than it did when we were young. For reasons that nobody has explained yet, the end result seems to be about the same.

For the good of our children and grandchildren, we can only hope that's true.