Newspapers aren't for Puppies

Paper, Organizational Learning Posted on

As a child, I can recall my mother reading the newspaper with her coffee every morning. The routine was so monotonous that on days when the newspaper was late or absent, turmoil rained on our morning routines. Just a few years later, my sophomore year in high school, we canceled our newspaper subscription entirely. What changed in just a few short years? The scarcity associated with the newspaper became obsolete. The same information could also been found on the television or on the Internet. Today, my mother still looks at the morning "news" - now it's done from her iPad or laptop. With our story not being a unique one, many Americans are canceling their subscriptions to newspapers and opting for a more-digital solution. Because of the production costs, unfriendliness in our "I want it now" age, and environmental impacts associated with paper newspapers, I feel there is no hope for newspapers in the information era.

The cost of producing a physical newspaper is significantly higher than providing that same information digitally. News produced digitally is available to anyone, especially if placed on the Internet. Various online news providers can cover their costs entirely through advertising. Others charge a monthly subscription fee; that fee, however, is often a fraction of a monthly newspaper subscription. Furthermore, consider the physical labor and effort in producing a physical newspaper. There are significant sunken costs in infrastructure, printers, buildings, etc. Additionally, there are variable costs – employees to run the presses, ink (or some ink-like chemical), heat, delivery people, and analysts (to determine the best way to distribute the papers in a given neighborhood). Digitally, you only need an author, editor, publisher, and a web server. Comparatively, the costs of producing new digitally are significantly lower than that of producing a physical newspaper.

Countless scholars and analysts have called our generation impatient. We simply don't have the time to read through a newspaper. When originally designed, newspapers were entirely linear; they were to be read from start to finish, in ascending page order. Busy people don't have time for that! We want the information that is relevant to us and we want it now! Digitally produced news is accessible via our Internet-connected devices. It is searchable and can be tailored specifically to our needs. A newspaper is an additional "thing" we need to lug around, and it isn't even searchable. In fact, many newspapers don't even have a table of contents! They are produced to a general audience in order to maximize potential buyers. My generation does not value information that is not directly relevant to us. As such, newspapers are slowly being replaced by digitally tailored solutions.

There are also environmental impacts associated with newspapers. While many newspapers are produced on recycled paper, they are still damaging to the environment. Stray newspaper clippings are often found lying around on the sidewalk or stuck in street drains. Producing the information digitally alleviates this problem entirely.

In conclusion, the time of the newspaper has come and gone. With comparatively higher production costs than their digital counterparts, the unfriendliness to our generation, and the environmental impacts of using physical paper, I feel that newspapers cannot be saved. The overarching idea behind the newspaper - consumer news delivery - still exists. The format for which that information is collected and distributed is rapidly changing and moving toward a digital solution.

About Seth

Seth Vargo is an engineer at Google. Previously he worked at HashiCorp, Chef Software, CustomInk, and some Pittsburgh-based startups. He is the author of Learning Chef and is passionate about reducing inequality in technology. When he is not writing, working on open source, teaching, or speaking at conferences, Seth advises non-profits.