Should We Care that A Seattle Newspaper Just Stopped Printing?
I have never been to Seattle, and I never read a paper copy of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. But I knew it well; it had terrific reporting and a great website, and was the source of many posts for this site. Now, after 146 years, they have cancelled the print edition. But I suspect that the online edition is not going to be quite the source that it was, as it cuts back to "20 news-gatherers", a number considerably smaller than the full-time and part-time staff of TreeHugger.
One could take the attitude that people don't buy books or newspapers for the paper but for the words, and it doesn't matter how they are delivered. But until the kinks are worked out, it gets messy. Clay Shirky wrote recently in Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable that this has happened before, five hundred years ago.
To describe the world before or after the spread of print was child's play; those dates were safely distanced from upheaval. But what was happening in 1500? The hard question is "How did we get from the world before the printing press to the world after it? What was the revolution itself like?"
That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn't apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can't predict what will happen.
Nobody knows yet how this will all shake out, who will do the reporting that the newspapers used to pay for (as Shirky says, where "Wal-Mart was willing to subsidize the Baghdad bureau.") But paper is no longer a green, sustainable or efficient way of delivering words; the internet is cheaper, faster and greener, no matter what that study said.
The Internet is a wonderful thing, and gives voice to so many with so few obstacles to entry, like ownership of a big expensive press and distribution network. But I am saddened every every time a newspaper closes, because we really have not figured out how to replace them.