Sorry, newspapers are dying...

…but that doesn’t mean that news is.

Monday’s episode of The Daily Show featured an interview with Walter Isaacson, the managing editor of TIME magazine and president of the Aspen Institute. He talked about his recent cover story for TIME and, specifically, what print has to offer that the internet doesn’t. I’d cite the original article, but I don’t subscribe to magazines anymore. Have a look:

Authors and editors in traditional media seem to possess a habitual dearth of perspective when it comes to the Internet. Isaacson seems like an extremely intelligent and qualified guy, but he’s fallen pray to that same lack of objectivity.

Newspapers are really a type of content delivery. Many people buy these publications for only one or two items therein (“Hand me the Sports section.”). The reason circulation is dropping is because, as a method of content delivery, any one newspaper is essentially competing with the entire Internet. Why buy a large stack of dirty newsprint for a few pages of classified ads when you can browse all of Craigslist for free?

Without auxiliary content like classified ads and comics to support it, news has to prove its worth on its own. Opinion and investigatory pieces do a fairly good job of this; it’s obvious to many consumers that the execution of the work is unique to the content creator and, as a result, of value. More expository, journalistic reporting is less quantifiable because, when executed correctly, it is the mere expression of facts. I would guess that most Americans feel we have an innate right to hear the truth. Ergo, we regard factual statements, without direct ownership owed to any one content creator, as a public service.

Amazon Kindle 2Isaacson defends the value of news by comparing it to music on the iTunes store. If songs cost 99¢, why not news articles? This argument rings of absurdity. The world didn’t join hands one day and decide in perfect unison that music was worth money, they were given a reason to buy. Here’s how Apple did that:

  • They solved the problem of how the audience enjoys music. Instead of chaining users to their PCs, they created the iPod.
  • They established the iTunes store and closely integrated it with the device, making the process of purchasing music for the iPod easier and quicker than buying a CD.
Saying that print media can spontaneously convince the public of its innate value is like saying Apple would have been just as successful skinning Napster and adding a shopping cart. Isaacson bemoans the experience of reading publications on a computer monitor versus “in the backyard” as if portability is an experience unique to print. Apple had to overcome that hurdle; why shouldn’t everyone else be forced to do the same?