I Don’t Read The Newspaper

There I’ve said it!  I am officially a heretic.  I teach journalism, but I don’t read a newspaper.  And I doubt that most people reading this blog or others do either.  I was thinking about this today.  Do those of us over 30, wake up some days and think we still live in the 20th Century.  Sometimes it doesn’t seem like much has changed, but it has, especially in the news business.

I don’t read the paper, but I read dozens of news sites on the Internet each day.  Between my RSS reader and my Twitter feed, I read lots of publications nearly every day.  But they just aren’t the same ones.

This is why I am virulently opposed to news sites charging for content.  It is not that I’m against them making money.  I know they need a revenue stream to survive, but I know that if I was forced to pay for every news site I visited, even a tiny micro-payment, then I would stop reading so much online.

But do not be mistaken into thinking this would push me back into the arms and loving embrace of my local newspaper.  It wouldn’t. I would lose that content forever.  I doubt I could possibly afford to pay for the incredible number of sources of news that I can find online.

In addition to news sites, I visit and view many other kinds of web sites daily.  Some via RSS, others through Twitter or another social site via recommendation.  This kind of infotainment also reduces the amount of time that I spend reading a printed product.

It doesn’t mean I’m reading less.  In fact, I’m reading a whole lot more these days.  It’s just that most of my reading is done on a computer screen.  It also means that I consume a lot more self-selected content – not just what a newspaper editor thought was important.  I imagine that this is a big part of what is killing newspapers.

The economy and ad sales are bad, but the attention deficit is worse.  I was an avid newspaper reader from high school until recently.  But as more and more high quality content is available online, I find less and less time for a broad market publication like a newspaper.  And when I do want something that only my local paper can provide, I am frustrated that it is not put online quickly and in an easily managed format.

This is what is killing newspapers.  They need to focus on giving me that one thing they can do well – local coverage.  Get the high school football scores quickly and accurately, Twitter the school board meetings, make your content search-able and deep.  Give me a way to find my polling place on voting day (with a map and directions too).  Give me tools that let me find the local library or the DMV.  Link out to stuff that’s not local, partner with USA Today, New York Times, etc.  Give me local, quickly, accurately and with some depth and do it online.  That might, just might save your newspaper long enough to become a news site that I would actually put in my RSS reader.

I may be a heretic, but I still believe in the power of journalism.  I just don’t believe in newspapers as a delivery model anymore.  That was the 20th Century, we don’t live there anymore.


  1. […] And I doubt that most people reading this blog or others do either. — Blog post from @Teach_J […]

    • Great post from PBCliberal. When Houston was hammered by Hurricane Ike, the only radio we had in the house was a clock radio. Luckily it took 9-volt batteries and lasted six days on two batteries. Too bad the clock didn’t run, only the radio.

  2. I love newspapers, reading two each day. Any time I travel, I pick up a local paper to get a feel for the place. I don’t want to think of a world without newspapers.

  3. dkzody,

    I totally understand how you feel. Whenever I travel, which is not as much as I’d like to, I pick up a local paper. But that is not a business model. I don’t read the local paper because it doesn’t cover the topics I want to read. I want to read about technology news, journalism news, education news and news about my section of the city. I find almost none of this in my local paper. This is the 4th largest city in the US and we have one tech reporter, one education reporter and it seems like no reporter dedicated to the eastern portion of the city/county. On those few occasions that the paper covers something of interest to me it is usually not online, not timely, negative and too often wrong. Two years ago our local football team went undefeated. It had been more than 20 years since this had happened. We didn’t get a mention in the paper until we went 10-0. Many other area teams with lesser records were often on the front page of the sports section. The “local” newspaper is anything but local. They seem to feel that local news is just not that important. We get much better coverage from the six TV stations with newscasts. Local is the one thing they should do best, but most metro papers just can’t be bothered. No wonder the public doesn’t bother to buy them. Regional, national and international news can be found anywhere – local is the only thing they have left to sell. If they’re not careful the next Craigslist will be hyperlocal news sites run by former employees of the metro papers. Then it will be all over for them.

  4. […] I Don’t Read The Newspaper – Robert Courtemanche admits what many do but would never ‘fess up to. “I may be a heretic, but I still believe in the power of journalism. I just don’t believe in newspapers as a delivery model anymore. That was the 20th Century, we don’t live there anymore.” […]

  5. Yeow. I just went from feeling like a dinosaur to some slime covered tadpole in primeval muck – and just because I read two newspapers a day.
    I want to agree with you about free content – but something has to support the news researchers and gatherers. Advertising could…but doesn’t now.
    Should we have government-funded news? I don’t think so.
    How would you feel if you were a farmer growing crops and I turned up to take what I wanted – because it’s just there for the taking and besides food should be free. All the basics in life should be free – but they aren’t. Someone has to pay for the labor involved in putting the product into the marketplace. Someone has to pay the farmer.

    • Sorry Cyndy. Not trying to make you feel old or bad in any way, you’re one of my favorite bloggers. Please understand that this is really about an idea that’s been simmering in me for several days. It is the last 18 months of reading blogs and articles about newspapers and journalism and the future. And I woke up the day before I wrote this and all I could think of was, “We don’t live in the 20th Century anymore, but we still act like we do.” So I hope we can still be blogging friends.

      I used to read the Houston Chronicle cover to cover each day. But then it was put online. I liked it online because I could search it and share it.

      But then I discovered a whole world of newspapers online. I’m no longer limited to just my hometown paper anymore. I can read news anywhere. If I want news about the capital, I can read it in the Statesman or one of the Austin TV stations. I can read news about Washington in the Post or USA Today. I can read international stories from a source in that country – most have English language papers online. I love it.

      Plus it is not just newspapers. I can read a number of TV news sites, pundits, magazines, blogs and more. The news universe is much bigger than before. And for journalism – that is a good thing.

      As a consumer, I could never possibly be able to afford the large number of publications that I read online even if you could get them to ALL agree to some kind of online clearinghouse. But then again, they get to sell my eyeballs. Their readership is much larger than before.

      I also don’t agree that news sites can’t make money with ads. That old canard just doesn’t fly. Lots of news sites do make money with ads. But they are not newspaper sites. They have smaller staffs. They focus on a niche. They aren’t burdened with legacy costs of print. They don’t have owners who made bad business decisions to pile up debt. Most are online only, or print much less often than daily.

      I’m not trying to be the bad guy, but I’m also tired of listening to the newspaper industry complain. They had the change to be Google adsense, carbuyer.com, craigslist, etc. They missed the internet gravy train and now they wonder why their “business model” doesn’t work. It is not because people don’t want the news. People want the news cheap. And it is newspapers that trained them that way. Newspapers were always dirt cheap – and supported by ads. But the newspapers let the online ads get away because the “Internet was a fad.” They thought display ads would last forever. The big chain stores and auto dealers would keep them fed right?

      I know this puts a lot of journalists in a bad place because they work for companies that didn’t see the future for what it was, but lots of people tried to tell them. I know lots of people say that newspaper owners are a conservative bunch, etc, etc. And conservative people usually get hammered by radical technical changes, especially when accompanied by tough economic times.

      I’m not trying to be insensitive to journalists out there who are losing their jobs every day. It is sad. But I do think that many of them – the good ones, the ones who really want to be journalists – will find ways to startup hyper-local web sites, online and print niche publications, real world and online community news sites, and many other new types of journalism. These will be smaller publications. They will not be general interest. And they will be web first. Sure they may create a print publication, but web is where they will live.

      We don’t live in the world of mass media anymore. We live in the peer to peer world. The election of Barack Obama should prove that. The Democrats were destined to beat the Republicans in ’08, but Hillary was the one to beat. She had the money, the machine and the name. That triple play had worked since George Washington. How the heck did a virtually unknown Senator from Illinois beat that? Peer-to-peer networking. He took it to the people. That’s where journalism has to go.

      Journalism has to stop mass marketing. The 21st Century is about niche and peer-to-peer. We have to get smaller to get bigger. It sounds crazy, but it is true. News today is about one to one, not one to many.

      We just don’t live in the 20th Century anymore and that is not a bad thing. We will still be able to have good journalism. I think we will still have news created by journalists. But it will have to become more of a relationship with a community or interest group. Journalism changes, so we must too.

  6. I get up every morning at 5 a.m. just so I can read a “real” newspaper. I can’t stand online rags. I need to hold the product in my hand. I need to be able to scan the page, read the headlines, marvel at the layout. Yes, I read for the news, too. And I get great satisfaction out of the real deal. I don’t know what I’ll do if newspapers all go digital someday! 😦

  7. I’m like Melissa, I want to hold the newspaper, walk around and take it with me.

    • I get that. I love the tactile sensation of reading a new book or a new magazine. I just know that I can’t get a newspaper with the news I want in it on wood pulp. I can get it in my RSS reader. I guess for me the function is more important than the form, but what do expect from a former TV journalist.

  8. […] Do Read Magazines Last month I wrote about how I don’t read the newspaper, (the actual printed kind) but today I picked up my skinny magazines from my school mailbox and I […]

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