Vin Crosbie, who has been away from the mediasphere for a while, is back. Boy, is he back.

Here’s what he has to say in Transforming American Newspapers (Part 1), which popped into my feedreader yesterday:

More than half of the 1,439 daily newspapers in the United States won’t exist in print, e-paper, or Web site formats by the end of next decade. They will go out of business.


The deaths of large numbers of daily newspapers in the U.S. won’t cause a new Dark Age but will certainly cause a ‘Gray Age’ for American journalism during the next decade. Much local and regional news won’t see the light of publication. (America alone won’t suffer this calamity. Many other post-Industrial countries’ newspaper industries will suffer or, at best, skirt a version of this disaster.)

Vin’s piece is bleak, but what he writes should come as no surprise to those who have followed his writing in the past. He covers some of the well-known details of the meltdown in American newspapers and points back beyond the birth of the net to show this is no sudden emergency, a point he and others have repeatedly made.

There has been some web reaction to Vin’s piece (part two in the series is promised for tomorrow; part three next week). Len Witt wrote:

If you love newspapers, reading Vin Crosbie’s well researched essay on the imminent death of newspapers will break your heart.

Len also augments what Vin has written with excerpts from a presentation he made to the Second Annual Global Conference on Individuated Newspapers in June.

I’m somewhat surprised that the overall response to Vin’s piece has been muted. There are only two comments on his piece (one at Rebuilding Media, the other at Digital Deliverance: the essay is at both sites).

As if to help prove the point, this also popped into my newsreader yesterday: Where we get the news. Deborah Potter has parsed findings from the latest Pew study on U.S. news habits. One of the findings that she highlights:

This year for the first time in roughly 15 years of asking the question, fewer than half of all Americans report reading a daily newspaper on a regular basis. Only 46% say they read the paper regularly – this number is down from 52% in 2006 and was as high as 71% in 1992. In a similar vein, fewer now report having read a newspaper “yesterday,” a more reliable measure of newspaper readership. Only 34% say they read a newspaper yesterday, down from 40% in 2006.

And, by the way, that 34 per cent appears to include both print and online. Just 27 per cent of people read a print edition “yesterday.”

I’d like to tie one more thing in here, which I think is relevant. It was a tweet I got from Scott Karp a while back during one of those occasional multiparty Twitter discussions. Scott wrote:

…(there’s) a lot of searching for a new model that validates all of the old assumptions about the practice of journalism.

It seems to me, that encapsulate a lot of what Vin is writing about, as well as a lot of the current angst (and blindess) that prevails in the newspaper industry. The idea that things will be all right once the economy picks up, or once someone (else) figures out this online thing is still fairly rampant in a lot of the mediascape. So is the idea that newspapers only need to find a way to keep doing what they’ve always done and everything will be okay.

Vin obviously doesn’t think everything will be okay, at least in the U.S, and, likely, in most of the post-industrial Western countries. Along the way he knocks down some of the “solutions” — more Web 2.0, more multimedia, etc. — by pointing out the declines that are affecting newspapers started well before even Web 1.0. (He doesn’t deal with the issue of going hyperlocal but others have, pointing out the problem is that the geographical local breaks down pretty quickly into finer and finer niches.)

It’s a depressing read (as Len wrote, it’ll break your heart), but an important one, I think, that will become vital as more people join (or at least start) the conversation.

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