Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Internet Is Not My Newspaper

The Internet is not a newspaper
Yesterday, the local online sources were announcing that the Ann Arbor News will fold in July. Today's news confirmed it. It's a sad commentary that a city the size of Ann Arbor cannot support a daily newspaper. I know that things have been tough on newspapers all over the country. But I wonder is it truly symptomatic of declining advertising revenues because of the web that some papers are going under, or is it the result of larger syndicates and big corporations that have only the shareholder's interest, and not that of the people that they serve? Just as with Pfizer, that pulled up stakes and left Ann Arbor (after pumping millions into new facilities here)-- Ann Arbor was a dot on the map. The head offices had no more affinity to this town than anywhere else.
So, my question is this: Has globalization and a faceless corporate bureaucracy spelled doom for our country? When companies are no longer part of the community -- whether its the banks that have your mortgage, the owners of your newspaper, or the company that bought out your local big employer -- are they sensitive to local problems, and being so large, are they incapable of actions that might actually be beneficial? Smaller companies can often be more innovative, more adaptable to localized conditions.

On top of all that... what about the photographers, the writers, etc., that make a difference by being the people that make journalism one of the aspects of our democratic society. A blogger can do only so much. But the power of the printed page has made a huge difference in our society. A free and independent press is essential for public discourse and communication to all levels of society. Depending on getting your news off the web is not the same. It shuts out more people than the pundits want to admit.

Surely, Ann Arbor can support a daily paper, if it were locally-owned. Perhaps even a weekly edition, or whatever the Ann arbor News morphs into. Maybe some group just needs to restart the Ann Arbor Argus and give it a go. Maybe I'm just an idealistic idiot, but Washtenaw County needs to be served by a paper. We are not, and never will be covered by the Free Press or the Detroit News unless it's UM sports or some tragedy befalls someone.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not against news on the web. It's a good adjunct to a paper. It's not, and never will be a replacement for the tactile and easily scanned newspaper. Besides, I can't light a fire in the fireplace with my laptop.


don said...

I feel your pain. But I take some issue.

I'm a graphic artist for a printing company and also ameture/ pro photograher. We work mainly in the high tech field and print things for the computer industry, but we also do advertising. We recently got rid of our dark room. I was a little sad to see it go I must admit. I do miss that big old stat camera even though it created a lot of hazardous waste to dispose of.

Having said that, I've never taken any paper for a few reasons. I think that form of news has seen its day, and lets face it, a news paper isn't exactly like a book that might be read over and over.

Wealthy families tend to own them and pay children next to nothing for distribution. We all feel nostalgic about the paper boy, but there's still something wrong about it from a labor standpoint this day and age.

It isn't just local papers, and it isn't just children used for distribution. I know a guy who used to deliver the Wall Street Journal. An adult. He did it to make ends meet. He had this huge route at night that paid next to nothing and put miles and miles on his car for a few hundred bucks a month. Then he'd come into work burned out. Yes there are people who are willing to carry but it's usually a last resort for them. The turn over is huge. He himself lasted about a year.

And then there's the pulp/ tree issue. Yes there is recycling, but not everwhere in this country. A lot of it just gets thrown away. That's just nothing but wasteful.

Perhaps the answer would be to start a local web page to provide local news. You can put this comment on your first "opinion" page. :)

I really do enjoy your blog. I have a few of those old cameras in my collection. I do feel nostalgic about my Argus C3 and my Canon F-1 but I can't bring myself to buy another roll of film at this point.

From what I understand they stopped printing the exposure instructions on the inside of the box!? I lived by that.. :)

Anonymous said...

I love newspapers, and wanted to love the Ann Arbor News. Unfortunately, the News' leadership lost touch with their readership a number of years ago.

The paper failed because it became irrelevant to its current and future readers. Not because of technology and the Internet, but because of a failure of leadership.

The News' leadership forgot what business they are in - they came to believe they are in the newspaper business, which isn't true.

Newspapers are in the communication business - communicating ideas, issues, analysis, opinion, and knowledge of businesses (ads) and events (public notices, community calendar, etc.). Overall, newspapers are in the business of communicating a snapshot of what's happening in the community in each issue.

Unfortunately, the News lost touch with its community, and so it failed.

Visit the Designated Conservative at http://dcon2012.wordpress.com

don said...

I'm sure you are right about the paper loosing local focus. The same thing happened here in local AM radio. We lost a really good local talk show host who focused on local issues, both political and non-political. Everything from a new hamburger joint opening up to lively debate about the city council. He was replaced with a syndicated talk show that has only one national political agenda.

It was just sad.

I guess you could look loosing the local paper this way. It's an opportunity for someone new to enter the market and publish a local paper. I have an old letter press I'll sell you. :)

Love your photos using the old gear BTW.

Frankie Perussault said...

If I may add my 'grain of salt' to this issue, I'd say the change over from papers to screen is similar to what happened when printing was invented. It means a huge change in the information process.

Anonymous said...

Look, the Ann Arbor News is part of the Newhouse company, which is owned by the family. Look it up. So the pressure to earn money for shareholders isn't there. If it had, perhaps changes would have been made much earlier that could have led to a different outcome.

As for losing touch with readers, I'm not sure readership is the issue. Ads pay for the news. Newspapers across the country are losing ad revenue. And this is Michigan, where the economy has vaporized. The largest employer, the University of Michigan, doesn't need to use The News to advertise its events, jobs, or anything else. In fact, most of its listings are run for free, like the newspaper would for any non-profit or community group.

And blaming the company for creating jobs to distribute newspapers? WTF? Nobody is forced to become a carrier. I did that a long time ago. You do it because it's a paycheck for a few hours of work and you can hold another job. But oh well, those carrier jobs won't be there anymore either. Now you can be happy.

Tom Gantert said...

I am a reporter for the Ann Arbor News.
The problem has nothing to do with the paper's management losing touch with the readers. The problem isn't with readers tuning us out.
It's advertising and how technology has changed that aspect of business.
Anyone who says different is either not familiar with what is going on with the newspaper industry or has an ax to grind with the News on a personal level. (Disgruntled former employees of newspapers are popping up like weeds throughout the blog-o-sphere). I'm not saying you are one. I'm just saying that is where this myth gets stroked that somehow, management at the Ann Arbor News could have somehow prevented the closing of this newspaper.
I have relatives and friends who are in the photography business. The exact same thing is happening there.
Are you a professional photographer? Have you tried to make a living off your skills in the last 10 years? I have a brother who has. It's a brutal market out there for photographers EVERYWHERE.
Did they all get bad at once?
No. What happened was the barrier to shoot acceptable photographs was lowered to the point that MANY more people entered the market. Digital cameras flooded the market.
Now, instead of 10 professional photographers, you have 10 professional photographers and 30 amateurs that can "get the job done" and at a much lower cost all competing for the same jobs.
You want senior pictures for your son? It's $50 at Wal-Mart and they aren't that bad. Nowhere near the $450 a professional might charge.
But today, good enough is what gets the bid.
Quality suffers, for sure. But the drop off in quality is as low as it has ever been.
For the life of me, I can't understand how a technological phenomena can impact an entire industry across the world and educated, well-meaning people can point to one newspaper and say, "Well, if you would have done it my way, you wouldn't be in this condition."
You will not find a newspaper in this country that is doing better today than it was 15 years ago.
Not one.
You can't blame that on The Ann Arbor News.

mfophotos said...

I appreciate your viewpoints, and the different perspectives!
First of all, I am lamenting the loss of a local paper -- I have no axe to grind, nor am I disputing the fact that things have changed in the industry. Whether those changes serve the readers better or worse is quite debatable.

Tom -- I do not disagree with you. I am not a professional photographer, nor am I one of those people with 2 weeks of experience with a digicam and then hang a shingle and announce that they are open for business.

I guess in the end, we will have to find a happy medium between actual print and online content. How to translate that into real jobs for journalists and photographers and so forth is a good question.

don said...

Well let me throw a few flies in the milk, to borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan. (thanks for the lead in Frankie) I figure quoting Reagan is good here.

First of all, Anonymous; yes I have a problem with a company using kids for labor especially in the night. I know our company can't/ wouldn't use kids to distribute our product, even if we did it at night.. Well, we might if we could get away with it..

Tom; I have a different take on the digital camera thing. Before digital cameras, there was no shortage of cheap film cameras. There were more than 50 million Instamatics produced from 1963 to 1970. Seven years! How would I know that? The Kodak website of course! (Try finding that information in the Ann Arbor News,..) We could talk Brownies but I think I've made my point.

The difference in photography now is that there is more (exposure). Sorry :) I couldn't resist saying that. Now we can see what everyone is doing. If digital cameras make seeing people's photography more accessible, then more people will be (seen) as good at it.

Since photography was first invented, there's been a debate on if it was really an art form anyway as it's so easy to do, right? Remeber that debate?.. Well maybe not...

The only way I will ever see any of Mark's (film) pictures is in a digital form, because the minute he scanns them they morph.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that what worked in the last century might not work in this one, be it the paper or the paper boy.

And Tom, it's always been brutal for photographers. Even when there were only a few jobs in print.

Eric said...

I posted a link back to this site from my blog but I wasn't sure how to let you know. I used one of your pics but gave you credit. If you have a problem with me doing that then let me know and I take it down. Thanks. http://blog.theparamobile.com/?p=19

Ernest Dempsey said...

I hear you Mark. I have a few very good friends in the publishing business in Ann Arbor. I'm actually expecting to come to America and indulge in publishing. I'm goanna save this link of your blog's to remind me of the issue. Who knows if I happen to be the one to start the first print daily from Ann Arbor.

By the way, I already have a quarterly issuing from Ann Arbor. Visit http://www.recoveringself.com/ to see our magazine and let me know how you lik eit. Also, would you like to collaborate on any future venture of starting a daily?