Let’s decide: Newspapers or democracy?

January 5th, 2009 by Dave Leave a reply »

This morning’s Media Guardian was a belter. It really was. Loads of great comment, useful insight and candid opinions.

It is of course the month of predictions. What’s the next big thing? Obesity, if last year is anything to go by. Heh.

But seriously, it’s one thing having willy-nilly comments featuring slightly educated guesses, and another thing all together to bring together some very progressive minds.

Step forward, Clay Shirky. His predictions are hardly groundbreaking, but he puts them in terms that doesn’t belittle anyone. Often, pro-print people dismiss online too aggressively. Likewise, pro-onliners lay into print folk as if they were mentally backwards for not wanting to blog their balls off. What Shirky manages is to hit a very logical middle ground. All parties should be reading this and thinking: “Yeah… that makes a lot of sense.”


The great misfortune of newspapers in this era is that they were such a good idea for such a long time that people felt the newspaper business model was part of a deep truth about the world, rather than just the way things happened to be. It’s like the fall of communism, where a lot of the eastern European satellite states had an easier time because there were still people alive who remembered life before the Soviet Union – nobody in Russia remembered it. Newspaper people are like Russians, in a way.

Perfect point.

An hour or so ago, Martin Stabe tweeted an age old newspaper problem:

Spent cramped flight wrestling with FT, WSJ, IHT and Die Welt. Broadsheet print is a rubbish format.

Somehow in the midst of tradition, we’ve forgotten that the reason for broadsheets being broadsheet was simply that it was easier — when printing presses had to be painstakingly put together with big old plates — to print a few massive pages, rather than a lot of smaller pages.

I’d assume the broadsheet size was deemed as big as it could possibly go before it became unreadable.

And yet, papers like the Telegraph still insist on broadsheet in the name of tradition and, unbelievably, journalistic value.

What Shirky is saying, is that newspapers are important to the democratic world (and even the un-democratic world, I guess) because of the journalism that’s in them. The fact it’s on paper means nothing at all.

In the same way that Town Criers became obsolete when printing came along, newspapers are now obsolete because the internet has come along. What exactly are newspaper publishers fighting? Give up already. Become web publishers — and then work on producing quality journalism once again.

Sooner or later there’ll be an invention that will bring print-style journalism back to our hands. Foldable LCD screens, whatever. But until then, the web is where we all are — so publishers must put every resource they have into making their site absolutely bloody brilliant. Because if they don’t, they won’t survive when the print/LCD resurgence happens.

So. Don’t be proud of your newspaper. Be proud of your journalism. If you don’t acknowledge that clear fact then there is no future for your print edition — then there’ll be nowhere to put your journalism anymore.

Ask yourself, which is the greater tradition to protect: newspapers… or democracy?

Share this post:
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Reddit


  1. Nigel Barlow says:

    Democracy but the problem is that the online model doesn’t support the revenues that are required to support quality journalism Dave.

    I am not a Luddite,online will be the future,what form it takes I am not sure of ,but it must be a viable business model without the printed word

  2. Dan says:

    Be interested to hear your take on his comments about iPlayer.

    Dan’s last blog post..social networking

  3. James says:

    Democracy, of course.

    Print used to have the monopoly on advertising – now the internet does. Now there is billions of sites to stick adverts on – thus the price of advertising has been driven down.

    So where is the money going to come from to fund massive, massive journalism projects?

    Print and online combined, I suspect. I think print sales will stabalise soon and maybe even increase. Most people just don’t find reading online a great pleasure – the computer still has that awkward and annoying slight control over the user – scrolling, clicking, ‘not responding’ etc. You cannot lie down in a comy position with a wacking great laptop on your bed/in your bath.

    As for nifty hand held thingys – too expensive – and who wants to read The NYT on a five inch screen – blah!

    I went and bought the Economist today, and the Guardian. Why? Because I had a thirst for something with depth and quality – all within my control, in my hands. The pleasure of reading them online would be not pleasurable at all.

    Thus – allthough current sales and doom mongers reflect otherwise – print will always be in demand.

    There you go, sorted – lol!

Leave a Reply