March 20, 2006

Newspapers a Dying Breed

From the age of 10 or so, I read the local paper every day - whether that was the Appeal-Democrat, which served the Marysville/Yuba City metropolis in Northern California, the Chico Enterprise Record in Chico, or the San Francisco Chronicle when I started attending UC Berkeley in college. For a long time, I knew that I wanted to make a career out of news reporting for newspapers. I held an internship at the 35,000 circulation Chico Enterprise Record, and wrote as a staff reporter for the 23,000 circulation Daily Californian in Berkeley, covering the crime beat, and dabbling in city council news or the UC regents.

Even in college, one of my two majors was Mass Communications, and I entertained thoughts of an internship at places like the Sacramento Bee, when offered it by a visiting speaker to one of my upper division journalism courses.

But by the time I was a junior, the Web had struck full-force, and as the Online Editor for the Daily Cal, I was keenly aware that the Web was the future, and the newspapers, as we knew them, represented the past. With access to the Web, I could gain sports scores and stock quotes instantly that were seriously outdated by the time they reached the next day's paper. I could even read editorial positions on papers across the country or the world, well beyond the local smokeshop or newsstand. And when it was clear that there was much more opportunity to focus on my Web efforts than as a journalist, I followed that route into Silicon Valley.

Which leads us to today's topic. Newspaper circulations are falling across the country, and in those areas where Web access is most rampant, the decline was most steep. According to a report in November of 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle's circulation fell more than 16% in a six-month period. Now, with major transitions at Knight Ridder's newspapers, the Silicon Valley's last great paper, the San Jose Mercury News, is up for sale to the highest bidder, and people are concerned that its high journalistic ideals may fall by the wayside. However, the Merc, as it's known, has long been a Web pioneer, and I would assume its tech-rich reader base can put up with the idea of them skinnying down a few reporters and possibly going Web-only. With access becoming ubiquitous, and news on the Web being more timely, maybe it's a bunch of noise about nothing.

We stopped receiving the Chronicle by sophomore year of college, and have never resigned up for the Mercury News, San Mateo Times or a host of other available papers. Their time, like the telegraph before it, is over and done. It's time to grow and move on.

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