Trying to predict the future of the Internet, or even trying to see how it will become as reliable a source of fact as old newspaper and television reports, is, in my opinion, like standing on the spit of sand in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. and predicting the future of aviation.
As the influence of the Internet grew, older publishers wanted to move away from it. I was one of them. Although I told the Newsletter Publishers Association that it wasn’t enough to write a print story from the wire, they needed to develop products for this new media.
A few rose early and caught the worm while newsletter publishers like me slept, particularly at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Economist. They accepted and adapted their suggestions for the web.
All of them are traditionally publications dominated by readers interested in issues beyond the local scope. The Wall Street Journal has always had a business audience and has adapted quickly.
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The New York Times was able to attract its global and national audience and convert them to online reading. The Economist clearly had a business and world affairs audience.
The Internet reception of The Washington Post was more dynamic.
When the Graham family sold The Post to Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man at the time, many of us believed he would be just another rich man buying a paper to keep his paper going and take advantage of the social opportunities that come with a franchise. But Bezos saw the future and poured money into the Post, not to keep it alive, but to expand it widely into the cyber world. He was right and pulled off a publishing coup.
What I don’t see from anyone I know in the publishing world who isn’t in literature is that no one understands how the Internet is going to absorb almost all of the advertising dollars.
Pure Internet companies, peripherally in publishing, vacuumed up advertising, creating huge fortunes for their owners.
Even though they had no experience in publishing and didn’t even think of themselves as publishers, they added stories they didn’t pay for as gifts—often created by legitimate news organizations; if you’re writing for a newspaper or magazine, you’ve been ripped off by an internet publisher.
The irony is that back in the 1980s and 90s, newspaper and television properties were highly regarded and never thought of. It was when Al Neuharth founded the Gannett chain and launched USA Today. I knew Neuhart, he was a newspaperman himself.
Now that empire has been sold, and many of its once-proud local names have shut down or look more like pamphlets than newspapers. The advertising, and with it the revenue, went to the internet behemoths.
But they are not newspapers, and their owners are not publishers. They are aggregators and, thanks to the miracle of the internet, have a global presence and influence beyond the wildest dreams of Rupert Murdoch, Conrad Black and the Sulzberger dynasty.
I salute publications that fight the internet by creating daily online publications and keeping the old craft alive.
These include The New Yorker and the English magazine The Spectator, which tried to gain American influence.
While in Edinburgh recently, my wife and I went to a newsstand, a traditional British store that sells newspapers, magazines, and sundries, to buy some newspapers. A large blue sign advertising The Scotsman hangs over the shop’s entrance. The owner told my wife that he no longer sells newspapers, that no one needs to read them.
If you know there’s a war going on in Ukraine, it’s because the traditional media told you so, because brave reporters are on the ground, not online. Repeat this line for Iran, China, Mexico, to say nothing of Washington, Toronto, London, Rome, Moscow and Beijing.
We need old media, often called mainstream media. We earned this nickname. The Hill, Axios, and Politico show where journalism can go nationally. But who will cover the statehouse, school board and courts? In the dark, all these institutions go astray.
At the courthouse in Prince William County, Virginia, I asked about the press coverage. The woman showing me around sighed and said, “We used to have reporters, they even had their own desks, but not now.”
Lady Justice closed one eye.
Llewellyn King is the executive producer and host of The White House Chronicle on PBS. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.