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5 Ways Newspapers Botched the Web 136

Posted by timothy
from the but-they're-getting-better dept.
nicholas.m.carlson writes "Remember Knight-Ridder and AT&T's Viewtron from 1983? With a $900 terminal and $12 a month, you could access news from the Miami Herald and the New York Times, online shopping, banking and food delivery, via a 300-baud modem. After sinking $16 million a year into the project, Knight-Ridder shut it down in 1986. That's just the earliest of the 5 newspaper failures on the Web that Valleywag details in this post, writing: 'each tale ends the same way: A promising start, shuttered amid fear, uncertainty, and doubt.'"
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5 Ways Newspapers Botched the Web

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  • Ha ha! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2008 @05:59PM (#24722319)

    Your medium is dying!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Dan541 (1032000)

      Your medium is dying!

      Good riddance, you either keep up or be left behind.

      At takes about 2 days for some news to hit the papers, I often find myself reading old news.

      • Re:Ha ha! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mmarlett (520340) * on Saturday August 23, 2008 @10:03PM (#24723649)

        Actually, you'll note that some of these botches of the web actually predate the web. It is easy to mock in hindsight.

        In the fall of 1994, I was the first editor of the third daily newspaper to go online daily (the Kansas State Collegian, which followed the Kentucky Kernel (which beat us by a few days as their school year started earlier) and the Raleigh News and Observer (nando.net -- now a McClatchy holding -- which was online with news everyday at some point that summer). In the spring of 1995 I had a newspaper management class and the publisher of the Kansas City Star spoke about how it had invested millions in this new thing that was going to let people read their newspapers at home on their PCs. When he was done, I invited him back to the student newsroom and showed him the Internet. ("It's kinda like AOL," I told him.) What we were doing -- for the cost of two part-time student salaries and one retired yet dedicated Mac SE 30 -- was almost exactly what he described. He was both amazed and pissed. The Star project was canceled months later.

        We were originally going to do a Gopher site to archive our newspaper, but some jackass at the ever competitive University of Kansas had done a mock up of the University Daily Kansan as a web page (spring of 1994). Spurred into action, we changed our plans and did that web thing instead. Why? Because it let us display images with the stories. But if Kelly Campbell, our technical brains, hadn't been curiously checking out our options, we'd have done a Gopher site and it would have been complete obscurity. One curious tech was the difference between bleeding edge correct and looking goofy. (Kelly, btw, is a senior programer for Google now.)

        When that KU jackass got his degree, he went to work for Knight-Ridder and led its Internet efforts. Then it created the "RealCities" horseshit that the article describes. I witnessed firsthand the RealCities disaster, as I was working at the Wichita Eagle (a Knight-Ridder paper), and called it when I saw it -- but nobody who mattered listened.

        Pretty much everything after 1995 is open for mockery. But those early efforts are just bleeding edge research projects that could have gone any direction. The whole idea of open standards just didn't exist for anything but automotive cigarette lighters. We were all just guessing, and some were willing to put their money where their mouths were.

      • by Inominate (412637) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @10:13PM (#24723697)

        Well not quite. For one, newspapers have a lot of room for things which aren't time sensitive. When it comes to news itself things are a bit different. The days of newspapers being able to stick AP articles into the paper are long over. To maintain relevance, newspapers have to (*gasp*) start researching, thinking about, and producing their own content. Today breaking news is available minutes after it was written, newspapers cannot afford to simply reprint what we've already read the day before. They have to put the effort in to consolidate and analyze all of the available information, as well as gather their own to produce something better.

        Newspapers need to accept that all of this NEEDS to be duplicated on the web. The web should be thought of as nothing more than a free digital version of the newspaper. Advertising should be expected to support it.

        Newspapers that can't pull it off, should shut down while they can.

        • by Dan541 (1032000)

          I agree,

          I think it was the NewYork Times that wont let people view articles unless they buy an account. (citation needed)

          If I can't get it online I just find another site that does provide it.

          • by Buran (150348)

            I think it was the NewYork Times that wont let people view articles unless they buy an account.

            The "price" of an NYT account is $0. And well worth it considering the NYT doesn't do (much) what so many papers do and just shove a pretty site around a boring wire-service (usually AP) news article that is found in hundreds of other places.

            • by Dan541 (1032000)

              I thought they used to charge for accounts, maybe I'm thinking of someone else.

              • by Buran (150348)

                They did - but given your present tense in your post I felt it a good idea to follow up. Personally I think they did the right thing. Now, if only the WSJ would lighten up -- when the price of online news is $0 everywhere else, I'm not going to pay to view their site. Not going to subscribe to the print paper either, so since I am doing without since they can't see the writing on the wall, they lose the chance to market to me. Their loss.

        • by Buran (150348)

          The days of newspapers being able to stick AP articles into the paper are long over.

          Should be, but isn't. There have been times when I've read the exact same article five times in a row when trying to get more information about something, but the papers are too lazy to do more than copy and paste from the AP Feed. And that was just this week or last. Or both.

    • Re:Ha ha! (Score:5, Funny)

      by strelitsa (724743) * on Saturday August 23, 2008 @07:23PM (#24722797) Journal
      Well, its a rare medium that is well done.
    • Hardly, unless you like to get your news pulled out of a bloggers ass. Information Providers are alive and well. Transitions are rough, but 3 years of stagnating revenue vs. 300 years of increasing doesn't indicate anything is dying.
  • Newspapers and SEO (Score:5, Interesting)

    by notseamus (1295248) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @05:59PM (#24722321)

    Another way newspapers are failing on the web is the use of terms in headlines that generate high ranking on search engines.

    Stories like the iPhone Nano that the Mail ran a few weeks ago, and that was linked to from here are perfect examples of it.

    Journalism is second place to the SEO it seems.

    Charlie Brooker wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, but the best example he gave was from the Telegraph where journalists wrote: "Young women - such as Britney Spears - are buying more shoes than ever"

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/21/charliebrooker.pressandpublishing [guardian.co.uk]

    • by Sen.NullProcPntr (855073) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:21PM (#24722451)

      Charlie Brooker wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, but the best example he gave was from the Telegraph where journalists wrote: "Young women - such as Britney Spears - are buying more shoes than ever"

      That one is a bit much but isn't this just the next logical step from the classic headlines on the print edition? An "Extra" that would have large block text of DEATH, SEX, SCANDAL, TRAGEDY, or whatever that could be seen on the newsstand when you were still a block away. It is a way to get attention.

      Today it's page hits yesterday it was copies sold.

    • by owlnation (858981) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:25PM (#24722479)

      Journalism is second place to the SEO it seems.

      That's true, but it's really not a reflection on newspapers, but really a reflection on the fact that search is not -- in any way -- good enough. In fact, if anything search is getting worse. There's Google and some also-rans. SEO-spamming Google is what everyone needs to do on the web. That just should not be. It wasn't even that bad before Google, newspapers didn't used to do that. Everyone HAS TO now.

      Google needs competition, for the good of us all, including themselves.

    • Charlie Brooker wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, but the best example he gave was from the Telegraph where journalists wrote: "Young women - such as Britney Spears - are buying more shoes than ever"

      In an attempt to steal some tiny fraction of the hallowed Mr. Booker's inevitably tiny traffic, I 'borrowed' his least-searched-for keywords for my own blog-thing.

      And managed to get myself blocked from my own blog on an airport lounge's complimentary interweb PC - complete with a big giant 'THIS PERVERT IS L

  • Anonymous sources (Score:5, Insightful)

    by narcberry (1328009) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:00PM (#24722323) Journal

    Well they've sure taken a strong lesson with the anonymity of the web. It seems every headline I read is based on an anonymous submission, a source who detailed events under the protection of anonymity, et cetera.

    Not sure how we still call them news agencies.

  • Viewtron (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:10PM (#24722385) Homepage Journal
    From TFA:

    In 1983, Knight Ridder and AT&T joined to launch videotext service Viewtron. Anybody with a dedicated terminal, phone line, and $12 a month could access news from the Miami Herald and the New York Times, online shopping, banking and food delivery, via a 300-baud modem.

    This happened in the mid 1980s so it had nothing to do with the web. It sounds like a brave early attempt to anticipate the web. Good on them. Sorry it failed but they were clearly before their time. I wouldn't call it a botch.

    • Re:Viewtron (Score:5, Insightful)

      by yelvington (8169) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @07:16PM (#24722755) Homepage

      It's true that Viewtron was long before the Web, but it very much affected the way newspaper companies looked at new technology.

      Knight-Ridder invested more than $50 million in Viewtron over six years and got nothing back. The money just went away. Gone forever. They could have bought a couple of mid-size daily newspapers at that price and had a solid rate of return.

      Memories of Viewtron fed a lot of fear in the 1993-1997 era. That's actually when U.S. newspapers blew their opportunities to be leaders in what became the modern Web. Nobody was willing to place a really big bet. Nobody wanted to flush $50 million down the toilet. So newspapers got all tangled up in complicated, unworkable cooperative deals like New Century Network.

      And when the dotbubble burst in 2001, people could say "see, I told you so!"

      Life moves on. Suddenly everything changes, and big companies are caught napping.

      So there you have it. Newspapers were among the pioneers in the online space, pushing content onto CompuServe and The Source, publishing on Prodigy, building entire national networks like Viewtron. Roll ahead a couple of decades and they're being reviled as a worst-case example of an industry caught sleeping at the switch.

    • Re:Viewtron (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AnotherDaveB (912424) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @08:44PM (#24723279)

      The point was that the newspapers gave up on it too soon.

      "A promising start, shuttered amid fear, uncertainty, and doubt."

      So the 'failure', was short-termism from the management.

    • Things weren't all that backwards in the 1980s - in 1984 or 1985 I was certainly able to access online news at university (via some enterprising person's Ceefax server at another university).

      • by Dogtanian (588974)

        Things weren't all that backwards in the 1980s - in 1984 or 1985 I was certainly able to access online news at university (via some enterprising person's Ceefax server at another university).

        That's pretty cool (or at least would have been at the time), but it doesn't really demonstrate newspapers'- or even the BBC's foresight- just some clever dude taking Ceefax (the BBC's Teletext service) and connecting it to the Internet (or whatever).

        OTOH, you could say that about a lot of things, and it probably could *never* have been that influential simply because there weren't that many people online in *any* form at that time and the person responsible wouldn't have been actually "marketing" this se

  • by Simonetta (207550) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:19PM (#24722437)

    Newspapers are paper and gasoline-based dinosaurs. This is what is causing their demise. It will soon cost too much to actually schlep all this stupid paper from the printing plant to the houses.

        Newspapers traditionally do the following things:
        - Inform their readers what is happening in the world.
        - Inform what is happening in their city, town, or neighborhood.
        - Provide a forum for information private sales and rentals, e.g. the classified ads.
        - Provide a network for a common political viewpoints.
        - Provide a central source for commercial ads of local retailers.
        - Provide an accepted 'source of record' for local events and legal notices; weddings, bankruptcies, public legal notices, etc...

        The web does all these things better:
        - CNN, BBC, Digg, and Slashdot tell us what is happening in the world.
        - CraigsList and eBay provide local ads and private sales information.
        - Blog and political websites provide a forum for persons with shared political views.

        Newspapers are still good at local city and neighborhood news and ads for local retailers. And the web has nothing for being a 'source of record' for legal notices, and all that stuff. Newspapers have permanence: once something is printed in the local paper it stays printed and accessable. It can't be changed by some cracker like web site info. Newspapers have credibility for that reason.

        But their dependence on paper and gasoline to move all this paper makes them irrelevant nowdays. Soon it cost too much to distribute all this paper and newspapers will be gone, like typewriters are now. Ever used a typewriter? They were a real pain in the neck.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But I can't line the bird cage with internets. Thank goodness for old media!

    • by Joebert (946227) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:31PM (#24722501) Homepage

      Newspapers are still good at local city and neighborhood news and ads for local retailers.

      You must be kidding, I read about things via Google news the day before they're printed in the local paper.
      I actually had a few of my non-web friends thinking I'm psychic for awhile.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2008 @07:01PM (#24722665)

        Newspapers are still good at local city and neighborhood news and ads for local retailers.

        I read about things via Google news the day before they're printed in the local paper.

        emp. added

        Congratulations on living in a major metropolitan area.

        If you live in a place with a population < 500,000, most of the local news stories won't make it to Google news - and if they do, it's because the local newspaper did a write-up on it. No one from CNN/ABC/FOX cares about a crime wave in Paduca, or the effect of the local grain elevator closing in Peoria. And the only time you get election coverage for small-town council elections in Google news is if one of the candidates is in a sex scandal.

        Sure, LA, SF, DC, and NY will get "local" coverage in Google News, but the only people covering local news here in "flyover country" is the local newspaper - I don't see that changing anytime soon.

        • Your comment makes me wonder if all newspapers are equally doomed. Does the web threaten the major big-city dailies more than smaller local papers? At the other end, I suspect the nationally-distributed papers like USA Today and the Wall Street Journal are also better positioned than big-city dailies.

          I imagine that all news-on-dead-trees will go away sooner or later, but I think some are going away sooner.

        • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday August 24, 2008 @04:24AM (#24724987) Journal

          I live in a little town [wikipedia.org] in Ar and by putting my zip in Google News I get news about two days before the local papers do. Everybody seems to forget all the local TV stations are online now and their reporting is a lot faster than newspapers are,so he doesn't have to be in a big city to get his local new from Google News,because believe me big city I'm not.

          I think one of the earlier posters hit the nail on the head when he talked about the need for local papers to do more actual researching and reporting to differentiate themselves from the web. Sadly,I've not been seeing that. Just more of the same wire stories from AP being regurgitated along with "stories" which are just reprinted press releases from the local business or politician when something new opens. I think the death of newspapers is coming more from the death of reporting than from the competition. Folks want something they haven't read before,not old AP stories and press releases rehashed on dead trees. The competition is simply separating the wheat from the chaff,it just turns out there is a whole lot of chaff in the newspaper industry. But as always this is my 02c,YMMV

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by nasor (690345)
            Exactly. It seems like local newspapers should have a safe niche covering local news, but most of the time they're strangely reluctant to do that. Most local newspapers are just a compilation of wire stories that you can already get for free from about a billion sources on the web, regurgitated press releases (also free from a billion sources on the web), and local non-news bullshit about things like how hot it has been lately. Do some ACTUAL JOURNALISM about LOCAL matters, and people will probably buy your
        • by vertinox (846076)

          If you live in a place with a population

          That's what Myspace blogs are for.

      • by rk (6314) * on Saturday August 23, 2008 @07:11PM (#24722719) Journal

        As someone who worked for one of the bigger newspaper chains in "new media" for two years, I have to agree with this. In theory local information is something that local papers should be able to dominate in online. The reality is the papers spend basically squat on local presence and are centralizing all their web presence. Google, and MSN and Yahoo for that matter, have way too many people all smarter than the people running the online newspaper business. Those companies will eat the newspapers for lunch and they won't know what hit them.

        The paper I worked for had just spent 30 million dollars on a new press facility, while online media was me (engineer), my boss, a designer, and an online editor, and we were lucky to have that much. Our servers were handled centrally and we paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars per year for the privilege. For what we got out of that money, we could've bought a couple servers, dropped in a DS3, and hired another person and done way more than what we did. We spent a lot of our time wrestling with their byzantine CMS, when we could've done the whole thing with Drupal or some other decent open source CMS and some customization.

        I hear the executives talk the talk about how their industry must transform, but my brief experience indicated that they don't have clue one on how to do it. I wouldn't touch a newspaper stock with a ten foot pole.

        • by pipingguy (566974) *
          I hear the executives talk the talk about how their industry must transform, but my brief experience indicated that they don't have clue one on how to do it.

          Perhaps this is because many executives today are MBA graduates that get the job based on pedigree rather than for having relevant experience and innovative thinking. The "it's always all about the bottom line" people have only one focus, and that's usually squeezing every last red cent out of everything, damn the consequences.
          • by cleophis.t.bufflehea (1350197) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @08:51PM (#24723311)

            Based on my experience in the industry, it's not that they employ MBA's whose only goal is the bottom line, but rather that they employ execs who really have no business running the types of operations that they do.

            Dyed-in-the-wool newspaper publishers get promoted to corporate VP positions, local marketing guys get promoted to run software divisions.

            The people at the controls don't fully understand the businesses they're tasked with running, and it shows in the trail of bad decisions, written off investments and failed ventures.

            I wish like the parent poster I hadn't touched newspaper stock. If I hadn't, I wouldn't be saddled with MNI shares that are worth 5% today of what they were a couple years ago, even with the employee discount.

            • by pipingguy (566974) *
              Marketing guys run software divisions? Holy crap, I guess I'm lucky in that only engineers and experienced tech people make it to the top in my field. Even then, there are some boneheads, but not many, and they are out-numbered.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:38PM (#24722529)

      You have some valid points, but there is a distinction which is often overlooked between those who generate hard content by reporting the news, and those who serve as portals or brokers for news content that has already been generated by others.

      It's not hard to see how Google, Slashdot, and others can make a good business out of aggregating and selecting the best work of others, some adding value by providing forums such as this one. But who's going to do the original reporting? Some say that the Flikr model works best. Good luck with that for coverage of stuff other than disasters and staged events... how many private citizens will be cultivating sources inside the administration, Congress, and state and local governments so they can report what and how policies are being made, and provide meaningful analysis? Sure there are millions of bloggers out there, but who has time to determine which of them are trustworthy, instead of being misinformed or having an axe to grind?

      So I think it's in the interest of all of us to consider ways in which established primary news organizations can continue to thrive.

    • by toddbu (748790) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:47PM (#24722577)
      My local paper shut down because it couldn't get enough readers. One of their biggest problems is that they virtually ignored the web, and only put a few stories online. I encourage them to put on relevant content so that advertisers would want to buy in, effectively getting rid of the physical copy and making it virtual. It's too bad they went away, but I didn't want the paper badly enough to want to pay a whole bunch of money to get it.
    • by wyldeone (785673) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @07:02PM (#24722675) Homepage Journal

      You're ignoring one of the most important jobs of newspapers: investigative reporting. While blogs and news aggregators like Digg and Slashdot do provide a useful service, they don't generate much news. Digg and slashdot primarily link to traditional news sources and would be bereft of content were such organizations to disappear. For an example of the importance of this role, just look at the past few years. If it were not for the investigations carried out by major newspapers (in particular the NY Times and the Washington Post) we would not know about the NSA wiretaps, the Guantanamo abuses, or the role of the Bush Administration in falsifying pre-war intellegence, just to name a few.

      In order for a democracy to truly function, a strong, independent press is necessary (look at Russia for a "democracy" where this element is missing). It's hard to see blogs and TV news stations taking over that role from newspapers any time soon.

      • by anomalous cohort (704239) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @08:11PM (#24723135) Homepage Journal

        You're right. The value proposition that newspapers bring is the investigative reporting. That is why the online presence of a newspaper shouldn't be powered by wordpress [wordpress.org].

        Any newspaper that wants to get their online presence right just needs to study the NY Times. It's really all about the economics of distribution [transitionchoices.com]. Column inches in a paper is expensive. Disk space on a web server is cheap. Use the web site as a searchable archive [transitionchoices.com] for all content but run ads on the site to encourage users to subscribe to the print edition. Also give away banner ads as an incentive to companies to advertise in the print edition.

        The same holds true for broadcast media [blogspot.com] and some companies such as NPR and CBS are finally boarding that clue train.

        • The problem with talking about people `getting on the Clue Train' is that while the clues are usually obvious in retrospect, they're not always obvious at the time.

          No matter what the clue is, somebody knows it, and probably shares it with the paper somehow. The problem is that the newspaper has to filter through 1000 different clues, and pick the ones that will turn out to be `true' and discard the `wrong' ones. And this isn't so easy -- successful executives made the right choices, and failed execut

      • by pipingguy (566974) *
        Not to mention the John Edwards affair.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dogeatery (1305399)
        Actually, I see the internet and blogosphere leading to a major change in investigative reporting through collaboration and speedier communication. Imagine if you make a Craigslist ad that says "have you ever been an employee at Company X? Email me or leave a comment at my blog if you know anything about its anti-union tactics" Bang! You bring the sources to you and get tons of quotes already in writing. Then you sift through and find the sources who are willing to be named. This is one way to cast a
        • by u38cg (607297)
          Either put a HTML paragraph tag between paragraphs, or post as POT (to the left of the submit button). Sorry, it's a hangover from the days when only hardcore geeks read /.
        • by jbolden (176878)

          I would agree with you. The blogs and before them the website discussions and before them the newsgroups do quality investigative reporting providing you have tons of time.

          What is needed now is blog summarizers with linking to make the terrific blog content available quickly and easily.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by thePig (964303)

        Another important aspect is the editorials.
        Even though quite possible in web, I havent seen any editorials in web which matches the quality of the ones printed in the national newspapers.

      • by houghi (78078)

        You're ignoring one of the most important jobs of newspapers: investigative reporting.

        Don't we have Fox News for that?

    • I work for a newspaper company.

      We have an internet presence, and even though it costs less than our very expensive physical product, we still make far more money off the physical product. Advertisers are still willing to pay more to have a physical insert in the physical paper, and they don't seem very interested in recreating that via PDF or Flash, or whatever online.

      We actually drive our paper in all directions, as far as 7 hours away, DAILY. Do you know how much we pay in transportation? Yet, this is still our most profitable model.

      I've suggested printing the paper locally in each location, and sending electronic copies to those cities rather than trucking them, but my company is actually more committed to putting out the best product, even at the expense of profit. We have really nice presses in our main facility. If we printed our paper in small towns, rather than deliver it via truck, the quality wouldn't be as good.

      No doubt, our company will shift more and more online in the future, but print isn't dead yet if you put out a quality product, cater to your audience, and sell advertising like mad.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Rich0 (548339)

        This is just an example of the problem with online advertising.

        The problem with online advertising is that it makes click-through rates very measurable. In the print world you never really know what the direct impact of an ad is (as in what the last ad somebody looked at was before they bought the car).

        My thought has always been that the purpose of ads is to make a general impression on a viewer and keep a product in their mind. The Coke and Pepsi advertise, they aren't really competing against each other

        • by Blakey Rat (99501)

          The problem on the web is that an ad isn't considered very effective unless soembody clicks on it. That is just silly. Nobody clicks on superbowl ads, and yet those are considered highly effective.

          That was true five years ago, but hasn't been for a long time. Any ad-serving system worth its salt has View conversions as well as Click conversions, and really good ones have advanced "Conversion Attribution" which looks at the last 3-5 user actions and weights the conversion appropriately. For example, a view m

          • by Rich0 (548339)

            Yes, but what happens when they see 4 banner ads and then go buy the product at Walmart?

            What happens when you see 14 ads, then a friend is asking you a question about a type of product and you mention that you saw an ad for such and such and the friend goes and buys it?

            Impressions are impressions - they have an impact whether or not somebody ever buys anything at all. That is the problem with the way we measure ads.

      • by kabocox (199019)

        Advertisers are still willing to pay more to have a physical insert in the physical paper, and they don't seem very interested in recreating that via PDF or Flash, or whatever online.

        No doubt, our company will shift more and more online in the future, but print isn't dead yet if you put out a quality product, cater to your audience, and sell advertising like mad.

        Is is because they and folks like my wife reliaze the same thing. I can get a flyer or something from a local food place or store and see this week

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by wdhowellsr (530924)
      Here in Central Florida we have the big paper, Orlando Sentinel and its' five local county web sites. Not surprisingly since they are owned by The Tribune Company, the web sites are treated as billboards and some of the local sites are almost 90 percent advertisements. The local Lake Sentinel site's posted news will often go unchanged for four days and once went an entire week before updating. The bottom line is that newspapers as we know it will be dead and buried within twenty years maybe sooner. I th
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      Newspapers are paper and gasoline-based dinosaurs.

      Google still needs them to write the news. Bloggers won't do it for free.

    • If as some people have said, the investigation is the value of newspapers, then really the modern newspaper should consist mostly of reporters, a billing department, a legal team, and a website. That way they can charge license fees to syndicate their content, advertising for consumers who view it directly, and a legal team to sue those who steal the articles. Thanks to the wayback machine, the internet never forgets evidence.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      - Provide a forum for information private sales and rentals, e.g. the classified ads.

      You're the only one I saw who mentioned classified ads, which means people are missing an important aspect. Classified ads are one of the main profit sources left to newspapers and they are still botching it. My newspaper's classified ads get worse every time they redesign the website, which is about twice a year! Today, I discovered the most recent system entirely replaced with a worse one. To see the ad details now

    • Newspapers are paper and gasoline-based dinosaurs This is what is causing their demise..... But their dependence on paper and gasoline to move all this paper makes them irrelevant nowdays.

      Thats very ignorant really. News papers are agency's who hire staff to research and write stories to market. The preferred medium of distribution was, and is, paper. That is changing. Your understanding of the "NEWS" industry, not to be confused with the "paper" industry, is just plainly wrong. Because one aspect of an industry changes people like you hit the streets shouting the end is near. Yes a lot of companies who specialized in type writers are gone, some who focused on a broader approach(IBM) are al

      • by jbolden (176878)

        Things like local arts could be much be much handled without a paper distribution system. For example the information could be organized by: date, type of art, intended audience, cost and sortable. Now start linking reviews and discussion in with each event.

        That way I can look for a cultural enriching event for the family on weekend ABC or a romantic art event with dinner on Saturday the DEF. I can see what other people thought of the event (or similar events) and read the reviews.

        What I shouldn'

    • You forgot the most important things that newspapers provide.

      Ads for local stores

      Funnies!!!

  • Go Team Netly! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jlowery (47102)

    Gone but fondly remembered are Netly News, Nando Times, SatireWire, and (last and least) the Worst of the Web. Fucked Company seems pretty fucked of late, as well.

    • by rk (6314) *
      Nando became McClatchy Interactive, a bloated and confused shadow of its former self. They've got a lot of talented tech and content folks still, but they're rendered ineffective due to multiple thick coats of management and bureaucracy applied to it.
  • Irony (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jerryHeinz (1000168) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:27PM (#24722485)
    Isn't it ironic that newspaper generated content is on the front page of yahoo (often) powers google news and is the source of a lot of content on the web but they make no money off it. The problem with newspapers failing is how do we become informed? The above piece was pretty much illustrates the headline nature of news on the net and cable news has turned into a complete joke with almost no informative news coverage. If newspapers fail and are replaced with headlines and fluff it only brings us closer to idiocracy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tikkun (992269)
      Most people don't want to be informed, they want something that entertains them or scares them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gregbot9000 (1293772)
      It is my belief that in the near future, as local news gets boughten by bigger companies and scraped to market the corps. product under the established brand. And those who didn't are just riped off by Google, and print becomes unprofitable. That the enfisis will be on News Providers, and not News Papers, even though I imagine they will be virtually the same thing. Much like how Record Companies really need to become Music Companies. Both make sense because they allow for pooled resources and collective bar
  • Maybe folks just couldn't get used to Kitt's computerized voice...

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:47PM (#24722583) Homepage

    Instead of doing a lot of indepth local reporting, many of them are just local syndicated content outlets. If they would do a lot of hard-hitting local journalism, especially on matters like local government corruption and abuse of power, there would be more interest in their product.

    • Very, very true. Content is king. If you deliver the stories that people want, especially if they are exclusive stories, then people will come to you.

    • by Dan541 (1032000)

      News papers are just copy-paste Nazis.

      Next time you read one of their articles google some random sentences and you'll find the same article posted on several other papers.

      • Yeah, and? Those articles will typically have the letters "AP" or "Reuters" or "Dave Barry is a syndicated columnest for the Miami Herald" either at the end of the article or right after the headline.

    • Absolutely, My local paper is one of those shells, and a few Local PRINT weeklies have been popping up doing just that and making a tidy profit off it too. The decline of circulation mostly tells me that the empty corporate shell model of print papers isn't working, more then it tells me the print medium is a dinosaur being slain by teh Webz.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:50PM (#24722599)

    The Fort Worth Star-Telegram [star-telegram.com] ran a dialup news-delivery service called StarText [wikipedia.org] from 1982 to 1997. The Internet and newspaper's web site eventually supplanted it. Until a couple of years ago startext.com still pointed to the newspaper's web site.

    Here [archive.org] is a snapshot from 1996.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Audiotext was a project that most newspaper chains embarked upon in the early nineties, and like most of their other "new media" initiatives, it was a case of spending tens of millions of dollars to chase tens of people.

      The newspaper industry has two major problems.

      The first is that they are sheep - nobody wants to take risks. They all see something shiny, then attempt to emulate it, spending millions in the process. I sat in many a meeting in my former life as a web manager at a group of small daily papers

  • Most people screwed up when the masses began to get computers and go online. Established firms got distracted and tried things that were too aggressive. New firms took the so-called long tail too literally and overextended themselves. Newspapers are not going bankrupt. They just have to refocus. Phone companies are not going bankrupt, they are just consolidated to meet the new demand. Most of the early dot com firms are gone, and that is mostly due to bad business based on sugar plum business plans.
    • Re:most screwed up (Score:5, Interesting)

      by yelvington (8169) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @07:51PM (#24723011) Homepage

      Newspapers are not going bankrupt. They just have to refocus.

      It's not that simple. A few big newspapers are losing lots of money, millions of dollars a month. But most smaller newspapers continue to make money with operating margins that look good by most traditional business standards.

      Newspaper operating margins traditionally have run between 10 and 45 percent of gross revenues (yes, really). A margin of 10 percent is just fine, unless you borrowed money under an assumption of 25. Then you're in big trouble. That is the core of the problem facing newspaper companies today.

      If you bought stock in a publicly held newspaper company and assumed you'd retire on the earnings, you can forget about it. The McClatchy Company, which bought Knight-Ridder, was worth over $74 a share about three years ago. Today it's worth less than $4. Shareholders are abandoning newspaper stocks. Why? Loans and bonds come before shareholders. A company with a lot of debt and a suddenly sinking line of business is one that shareholders quickly abandon, especially if the news is full of chatter about how the Internet is destroying its business model.

      If things get bad enough, a company could go into bankruptcy -- leaving shareholders with nothing -- even while it's still making a profit on regular operations. Debt service can kill you.

      The Internet really is changing the world, but that's not the biggest reason U.S. newspaper companies are hurting right now. It's the economy. Local advertisers, which are the big sources of revenue, are cutting back. Employment ads, real estate ads, used-car ads are suddenly way down.

      So what's unfolding right now is largely an ownership crisis. In the long term, smearing ink on paper is a bad idea, the Internet is a better way to distribute news and information, and old business models have been disintegrated. All that stuff is true. But the crisis right now is one of ownership and finance, not continued operation.

      And I will not be surprised to see one or more bankruptcies in the next year.

  • LA Times (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:53PM (#24722615) Homepage
    The LA Times, which has historically been one of the best papers in the US, has recently been through a lot of management shakeups, layoffs, and a change of ownership, and its relationship to the web has been a big point of controversy. WP says, 'In December 2006, a team of Times reporters delivered management with a critique of the paper's online news efforts known as the Spring Street Project. The report, which condemned the Times as a "web-stupid" organization," was followed by a shakeup in management of the paper's Web site, latimes.com, and a rebuke of print staff who have "treated change as a threat."' Some of the reporters feel that journalistic standards are lower on the paper's web site than they are in the printed paper. Their circulation is way down.
  • by westlake (615356) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @06:56PM (#24722643)
    Newspapers were very much afraid that their markets would be eroded by the immediacy and emotional impact of the nesreel, radio and television. Edward R. Murrow broadcasting from London. William L. Shirer from Berlin.
    .

    In March of 1939 The St. Louis Post Dispatch began experimental public broadcasts of a nine page facsimile newspaper to the home using technology developed by RCA.

    "So far as the transmitting equipment is concerned, it is the standard scanner manufactured by RCA, the output of which is fed into a 100-watt transmitter operating on 31,600 kc. We selected the ultra-high frequency band because it offered the opportunity of broadcasting facsimile during the day time--in fact any time we desire.

    We have not experienced nearly as much trouble with interference on the ultra-high frequency band as was expected. The characteristics of the recorders are such that far more interference can be tolerated than is the case in the reception of sound broadcasting an these frequencies."

    Within the next month RCA expects to be able to supply receivers at a cost of about $260. Several will be placed in public places for demonstration. The range of Station W9XZY is from 20 to 30 miles.

    "On the first page of this "radio newspaper," now being received in every home in the St. Louis service area of W9XZY equipped with a facsimile receiver, are the leading news articles of the day. Then following sports news, several pages of pictures, Fitzpatrick's editorial cartoon, a summary of radio programs and radio gossip, and a page of financial news and stock market quotations."

    The antenna of the receiver set in the home picks up these waves. The receiver, a closed cabinet with no dials to be operated or adjustments to be made by the owner, contains continuously-feeding rolls of paper and carbon paper which pass over a revolving metal cylinder from which a small stylus projects.

    Pressure, varying with the intensity of the radio waves, is exerted on a metal bar, parallel to the axis of the cylinder, beneath which the paper and carbon is fed. Thus the black and white of the original copy scanned by the "electric eye" is duplicated on the paper passing over the cylinder of the receiving set which is synchronized with that of the sending mechanism.

    It is unnecessary for the reader to be on hand when a broadcast begin since a clock, set for the scheduled time, will automatically start the receiving set and stop it at conclusion of broadcasting. It requires 15 minutes to transmit one page.

    First Daily Newspaper by RADIO FACSIMILE [antiqueradios.com]
    [as published in Radio-Craft, March 1939]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Enderandrew (866215)

      We bring this up at work quite a bit. Radio was going to completely kill print. TV would completely kill print. Some newspapers are hurting right now, but the well run papers are doing just fine.

      • Although many of them are doing well on the basis of something *other* than their news business. The Washington Post for instance makes very little money on their news business, but they make the big bucks on their Kaplan Test Prep business. (Their most recent annual profits report had the overall profit down 39% even though Kaplan more than pulled its weight with 14% increase in sales). The New York Times, arguably the most well known and respected paper in the country, had profits drops over 80% in the
        • I work for the Omaha World-Herald which owns a direct marketing company, as well as almost every paper in Nebraska and Iowa. We have online advertising as well, but our money almost all comes from physical insert advertising in our paper.

      • Make no mistake -- the Internet WILL kill newsprint. Relying on a simplistic interpretation of history isn't going to save it.

        Radio didn't kill print because it didn't satisfy the same needs that print did. TV didn't kill print because it didn't satisfy the same needs that print did. Now ask yourself: does the web satisfy the same needs that print does? It's clear to me (and basically everyone else that's under 50-years-old) that it does. Not only does it replace print, but it improves on it.

    • by yelvington (8169) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @08:01PM (#24723079) Homepage

      That's a great link!

      I have an image of a Radio Craft cover from that era that I frequently use when I'm speaking at journalism conferences.

      It shows a guy who looks like Bob (from the Church of the Subgenius) collecting a fax paper from a radio device.

      The point, of course, is that radio unfolded on a completely different path. Cars are not horseless carriages. Websites shouldn't be "online newspapers." And that sort of thing.

      In the late 1990s, I attended a future scenario-planning workshop with a bunch of newspaper folks. We all broke up into groups to brainstorm products. One of the other groups -- not MY group! -- came up with a great idea: We'll deliver fax newspapers, over the Internet. It was 1939, all over again.

      William Gibson said the future is already here; it's just unevenly distributed. That's true. But it's also true that when it's here, most of us can't see it, because we're so desperately trying to fit it into a framework from our own past.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by westlake (615356)
        In the late 1990s, I attended a future scenario-planning workshop with a bunch of newspaper folks. We all broke up into groups to brainstorm products. One of the other groups -- not MY group! -- came up with a great idea: We'll deliver fax newspapers, over the Internet. It was 1939, all over again.
        .

        It was 1989 all over again as well:

        In two small Illinois towns, a one-page fax newspaper called Fax Today has challenged the local daily with some success, prompting predictions that similar fax papers could s

  • Do you remember (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fotoguzzi (230256)
    > Knight-Ridder and AT&T's Viewtron from 1983?
    No.
  • Google (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'm still amazed at how difficult conventional media say it is to make money off the web when Google makes billions off of dinky text ads.

    • How many of those dinky text adds run on the web version of those conventional media's stories? It's pretty easy to make money when you got a finger in everyones pie, and very hard when everyone has a finger in yours.
  • Ah, Yes, Viewtron... (Score:4, Informative)

    by ewhac (5844) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @07:46PM (#24722981) Homepage Journal
    I remember Viewtron when it came out. This was pre-Internet, and everything was working off the "BBS" model. But even then, Viewtron was a complete joke.

    First off, it spoke NAPLPS [wikipedia.org] -- basically, Flash before there was Flash. There was no text-only interface. So you got to stare at the screen as it drew almost pretty pictures at you, at 300 bits per second.

    Now there was nothing intrinsically wrong with NAPLPS -- it was fairly sophisticated and portable for its day. Dave Hughes was a big champion of it. But since newspapers were vehicles for advertising, and advertising "requires" graphics, you spent a non-trivial amount of time waiting for the ad to render, then the UI, then the information you actually requested. It made the text-only services of the day like CompuServe and The Source seem speedy by comparison.

    It still floors me that they plowed over 10 million 1980 dollars in to this thing. On-line sophisticates universally declared it as wretched, and there was no way it would ever have been appealing enough for someone to go out and drop large sums of money on new equipment to get access to it. (By the way, I'm pretty sure the Viewtron client I saw was running on a Commodore-64. Viewtron wouldn't have justified the purchase of the modem, much less the C64.)

    Schwab

    • by yuna49 (905461)

      What's perhaps more surprising is the total failure of "teletext" and other "videotext" projects that employed the vertical blanking interval in television broadcasts. Using broacast systems was obviously preferable to 300-baud modems, but these technologies didn't prosper either. As a guess, I suspect the deep-seated suspicion, perhaps even hostility, between newspaper and broadcast organizations played an important role here.

      The other technological dead-end of this period was "interactive" cable service

  • by Huntr (951770) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @08:13PM (#24723147)

    The #1 way newspapers screwed up was by trying to charge for stuff you can get for free. They tried to cram their existing model of paying for news on a medium where you can get a lot of good news for free and without a lot of hassle. Charging for their version of the same story, making non-home subscribers register or pay, the hoops we were made to jump through, all led to most newspapers taking a giant dump on the internet. Most of those schemes have been scaled back or done away with for many of the dailies I read online. I don't know if its too little, too late, but lots of newspapers are hurting and failing to correctly embrace the web had something to do with it.

    • by nasor (690345)
      Exactly. It's shocking to me that many local papers STILL expect you to pay for online access, when the likes of the NY Times, Washington Post, an Wallstreet Journal will give you online access for free. Maybe there would still be some incentive to pay for access to a local newspaper if it actually covered local news and issues that you couldn't get from a big national source, but the vast majority of stuff in local papers seems to be wire stories, regurgitated press releases, and non-news crap that's local
  • Cue Cat anyone?? (Score:3, Informative)

    by hemp (36945) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @11:28PM (#24724013) Homepage Journal

    How could they not mention Belo Corp (owner of the Dallas Morning News)$40 million dollar investment in the Cue Cat? The ultimate link between newspapers and web pages via bar codes in an adorable PS2 device.

    http://www.dallasobserver.com/2001-06-28/news/goodbye-kitty/ [dallasobserver.com]

  • Why do I get the feeling Mr. Carlson is posting this stuff all over the place to promote ValleyWag?
  • 1.) It is harder for me to use my laptop when I am on the toilet.

    2.) I do it anyway.

  • Newspapers lack a Comments box. Letters to the Editor are an 1800's technology. They are slow; it will be at least a day, probably two, before your letter appears. Letters are heavily and arbitrarily censored. Many letters are simply "not printed" for no apparent reason; in their arrogance, the newspaper people assume that letter-writers will simply take that kind of crap from them, and keep trying. If they do choose to publish my letter, the idiotic 'editing process' they put it through is insulting to me,

To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. -- Elbert Hubbard

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