The standard critique at the interface between the dying dinosaurs of print and the whip-smart web is that newspapers simply did not understand and embrace the web, and are doomed as a result. If newspapers would only do “X” – and among Internet cognescenti, “X” has many definitions – newspapers would be able to thrive, or at least survive, in the new world.
But if audience is a measure, newspapers have gotten the web fine. If our measure of “getting the web” is giving people something they want to read, newspapers have been fabulously successful. Web metrics are notoriously hard, but as Michael Hirschorn notes in an an Altantic piece speculating on the death of the New York Times, lots of people are reading newspapers on the web:
The Web site, nytimes.com, boasted an impressive 20 million unique users for the month of October, making it the fifth-ranked news site on the Internet in terms of total visitors. (The October numbers were boosted by interest in the election, but still …) The print product, meanwhile, is sold to a mere million readers a day and dropping, and the Sunday print edition to 1.4 million (and also dropping). Print and Web metrics are not apples-to-apples, but it’s intuitively the case that the Web has extended The Times’ reach many times over.
In other words, the Times is, clearly giving web readers what they want. This is not about doing a good job of delivering news on the web. It’s about the fact that in so doing, there is not enough money to be made to support the people doing it.
As I sit here looking out my back window on the beautiful yellow morning light sweeping down across Albuquerque, watching for the first birds to hit the feeder, drinking my first cup of coffee, my library of economics and archaeology and climate science stacked helter-skelter on the bookshelves behind me, I also could not help but smile at Hirschorn’s description of one of the things that will be lost when newspapers die:
It will also mean the end of a certain kind of quasi-bohemian urban existence for the thousands of smart middle-class writers, journalists, and public intellectuals who have, until now, lived semi-charmed kinds of lives of the mind.