With the full onset of consistently declining revenues and mass layoffs, newspapers have now finally accepted the depth of their plight. Now the war wages on as to how — and whether — print can become more commercially viable through innovation. In an article discussing how industries rework themselves to stay relevant, the NYT blissfully throws doubt on her ability to survive in this economic climate. Is there at least some solution that could save the local paper?The bitter feud between Slate's Ron Rosenbaum and new media simpleton Jeff Jarvis aside, both do agree that newspapers are in deep shit. The Times' Catherine Rampell dismisses the clamor over copies of the NYT's election issue, and doesn't see the newspaper becoming "a luxury product." Newspapers are just another industry, and as currently constituted, papers are way behind the curve in ensuring their survival:
"If you look at the history of firms that have tried to diversify their businesses, you’ll see it’s virtually an impossible thing to do,” says David A. Hounshell, a historian at Carnegie Mellon University who studies technology and social change. "Usually when a firm announces a program to diversify, they’ve pretty much written their death warrant." Newspapers have faced challenges before and have adapted — including through efforts at diversification. Can these historical precedents teach newspapers how to defeat the economic forces of technological change once again? Like previous industries fearful of obsolescence, newspapers can either develop a new product, or find a way to remarket and remonetize the old one. Right now, newspapers are doing a little of both: They’re adapting their product to the Web to attract new audiences, and they’re trying to re-monetize by delivering more targeted advertising. Meanwhile, we’ve already seen some of the "destruction" half of Joseph Schumpeter’s famous “creative destruction" paradigm, with many newspapers cutting staff and other production costs. Unfortunately for newspapers, historians say, the survivors in previous industries facing major technological challenges were usually individual companies that adapted, rather than an entire industry.
We know an insane man (Lee Abrams, right) who works for the Los Angeles Times who totally agrees with you, Ms. Rampell. Hell, the LAT is promoting today's edition as a Twilight collectible! There is an optimistic note sounded at the end:
But perhaps the destruction will lead to more creativity. Perhaps the people we now know as journalists — or, for that matter, autoworkers — will find ways to innovate elsewhere, just as, over a century ago, gun makers laid down their weapons and broke out the needle and thread. That is, after all, the American creative legacy: making innovation seem as easy as, well, riding a bike.