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Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Internet retail giant Amazon, has bought The Washington Post for $250 million. He has bought it as an individual, not as Amazon. This makes Bezos, a leading light in the digital, online world thanks to his disrupting of the bricks-and-mortar order of things, a press baron who single-handedly owns a famous newspaper. A print newspaper.

These are the worlds of old media and new media colliding in spectacular fashion, once again raising the debate over where the future of news lies. No one is yet clear about the motivations behind the acquisition. Bezos could be displaying old-skool philanthropy, giving up a mere 1% of his $25 billion fortune to save an ailing institution. Or he could have a much less kindly ulterior motive to buying The Washington Post.

The truth will be out in the end, but in the meantime we can use the news of the purchase to discuss the future for news, and the battle between print and digital that is currently raging hard.

This Week’s Question…

We want to know, Print Vs. Digital: What Is The Future For News? This is, on the face of it at least, a very simple question. Imagine yourself consuming news content What Do You Use For News? [You Told Us] What Do You Use For News? [You Told Us] It's not exaggerating to suggest that a person in a developed country can now find out what is happening anywhere in the world, whether it be their local area or somewhere thousands of miles away,... Read More — be it simple reporting, in-depth investigations, editorials, or opinion pieces — in a few years time and tell us what medium you see yourself using.

It’s a well-known fact that the print editions of newspapers are struggling to make ends meet, with circulations dropping for most publications. This is primarily as a result of the Internet, and in particular the growing number of news websites 5 Great Multi-Source News Websites 5 Great Multi-Source News Websites Read More , and the growing number of people who can access these at any time of the day and night.

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The problem is that many news stories reported online are sourced from the major news organizations, who have the resources and journalists needed to actually break news. So it’s a Catch-22 in which we need the very publications that are dying as a result of the way the Web assimilates news stories.

To counter this, many newspapers have their own websites, and some have hidden the content behind paywalls in an attempt to switch offline revenue to online revenue. But paywalls are even less popular than advertising AdBlock, NoScript & Ghostery - The Trifecta Of Evil AdBlock, NoScript & Ghostery - The Trifecta Of Evil Over the past few months, I've been contacted by a good number of readers who have had problems downloading our guides, or why they can't see the login buttons or comments not loading; and in... Read More as a way of making money, so the majority of people are unwilling to pay for news they feel they can get elsewhere.

With all that in mind, please let us know your thoughts on the subject. Can print survive in this Internet-driven age? Are paywalls a good idea or a hiding to nothing? Will the quality of journalism decline with a move to the Web? What should Jeff Bezos do with The Washington Post?

Drawing Conclusions

All comments will be digested to form conclusions in a follow-up post next week where we will detail what You Told Us. One reader will be chosen for the coveted Comment Of The Week, getting their name up in lights, the respect of other readers, and a T-shirt. What more motivation than that do you need to respond?

We Ask You is a weekly column dedicated to finding out the opinions of MakeUseOf readers. The questions asked are usually open-ended and likely to necessitate a discussion. Some are opinion-based, while others see you sharing tips and advice, or advocating tools and apps to the MakeUseOf readership. This column is nothing without you, as MakeUseOf is nothing without you.

Image Credit: [BarZaN] Qtr

  1. Lisa O
    August 8, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    For myself, I can't shake the comfort of holding a newspaper in my hand, leaning on my chair. i tend to savor things quicker in form of a webpage, but with print paper I can make my way slowly from news to news. Less distraction too (we all know how far click-happy fingers could get us).
    I also nod along as I read what fellow commenters wrote. I want to believe print paper is here to stay. I can't. At least, not as much as I'd like.
    Looking at the bigger picture however, I don't see much hope for print paper in the future. Unless they (the editorial team) can amp up the journalism quality or get something exclusive that can't be found on the 'net, then it'd just fade away, sent off by the last of its mourners. Trying to see reality here. Some of us would defend it to death, but unfortunately our numbers are not enough to save a dying industry. Like any good things, what they need is innovation.

    • Dave P
      August 9, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      I wouldn't give up hope yet. I do think there's an opportunity to evolve rather than die completely. After all, newspapers (certainly in the UK) now offer heavy doses of celebrity news that anyone visiting from the 1960s would never have foreseen coming.

  2. Jane Fartez
    August 8, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    The stars at night aren't going anywhere any time soon either (okay the light from stars).
    It's not a matter of how great the old medium is, it's how much the new generations grow to use and love it. They're not doing that with newspapers (and don't seem to miss starry nights either)

  3. likefunbutnot
    August 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Listening to WNYC's On The Media, which covers issues related to the media environment and journalism, about 3/4 of the segments deal with tech issues or online activity; print is largely discussed in the context of digitization and monetizing online content or layoffs and dwindling sales.

    Print will go the way of the Dodo. It's going to circle the drain forever, but there's no justification to waste the time and energy on printing, distribution and disposal when the cost of online publication is essentially nothing.

    I don't think books are going away, but a newspaper is something that only makes sense in an environment with low internet service penetration and a decent population density. That's something that makes sense in fewer and fewer places. The biggest issue for non-print media is covering regional and local news in such a way that it can be delivered to an appropriate audience, but that problem is undoubtedly easier to solve than delivering thousands of hard copies every day.

    A lot of our news now is essentially advertising copy disguised as news. TV stations are frequently given news segments that poorly disguised ads for some or other product (e.g. miracle outpatient cosmetic surgery); newspapers and sites will run press releases as if they're original content. There's little doubt these things are going to get worse, particularly since one of the most successful "News" outlets in the US at the moment is particularly fond of mixing editorial with theoretically news-based segments.

    Media ownership is a huge issue as well. Most people just don't question it. A handful of companies own most of the radio stations and most of the news organizations in the country. Again, that's really awful because the push to consolidate and cut costs means that regional and local coverage for much of anything is going to wither and die and ownership bias will keep certain kinds of news coverage before it could ever reach an audience.

    So what's the future: Giant news organizations that centrally control semi-journalistic content across media outlets (online, broadcast, print, minimal actual reportage done by human beings. News becomes a tool to advertise other media properties within the same ownership conglomerate. "Serious" long-format or investigative work drops out of the mainstream landscape and becomes a matter of subscription support or patronage. Local content becomes the responsibility of hobby journalists or those hyper-invested in a particular issue, while those interested in following local news make the best use of aggregators and smart content filters to deliver reasonably timely information. In theory, those same aggregators will do the work of ensuring that the most interesting stories find their way out of whatever local hole they're stuck in, and if they're either truly significant on a wider geographic level or if they push the narrative supported by some media conglomerate they'll be picked up and given attention by a human being who is actually what we now think of as a journalist.

    All in all, I think the combination of consolidation of outlets and fragmentation of consumer interest means that news has become and will continue to be a depressing and oddly subjective window to reality. And it's only going to get worse.

    • Dave P
      August 9, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      Great comment full of interesting viewpoints.

      I think printed newspapers as they exist right now haven't got long left, but they evolve into something more worthwhile. It could be that local and/or niche reporting is going to come to the fore, because the big national news stories are going to be covered online anyway.

      • likefunbutnot
        August 9, 2013 at 10:08 pm

        It's not that local news is going to come to the fore, it's that online doesn't currently have a way to address a local scope in a way that engages are wide enough audience to make it worthwhile, so it makes sense to focus on that issue; it's the one thing that the newspaper can still do.

        Right now I use Google Alerts to sort-of keep up with local issues, but it doesn't work very well in part because I'm not all that engaged with my community in the first place, much as I might try to be.

        I think the rest of what I wrote probably came off as a little rant-y and weird, but in my IT contracting days I saw some corporate media operations from the inside and the more I saw the more I liked the CBC, NPR and PBS.

    • dragonmouth
      August 9, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      "the cost of online publication is essentially nothing."
      Not exactly nothing. You may eliminate the production and distribution costs but the personnel costs will remain. Unless, of course, you intend to use "man on the street" reporting, in which case the quality of reporting will suffer even more than it has already. The disposal costs for the most part won't change because they are part of disposal of other municipal garbage.

  4. dragonmouth
    August 8, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    I prefer a newspaper/magazine to online news. Part of it is habit but part of it is convenience. A newspaper can be folded until it can be read in tight quarters. If you drop it, the worst that happens is that somebody steps on it or the wind blows it all over. It does not need batteries/power to be read. Once read, it can be put to many other uses. It is recyclable.

    Newspapers and their reporters have a code of ethics and supposedly check the facts/sources of their stories before publishing them. In comparison, it is Wild West as far as online news outlets are concerned. The only goal is to be the firstest with the mostest, damn the facts, full speed ahead.

    Having said that, I know that hardcopy newspaper have no future. The one, big shortcoming of newspapers in today's world is that cannot deliver breaking news with the immediacy of electronic media. With society's lust for immediate gratification, newspapers just don't make it.

    • Lisa O
      August 8, 2013 at 7:34 pm

      Your view is very similar to mine. I too, prefer hardcopy newspaper, but I don't believe it could still be around a few years from now.
      Sadly, I've seen the quality of news from my favorite newspapers declining the last few years, since they began to legitimize citing internet as one of their main sources.

      • Dave P
        August 9, 2013 at 6:01 pm

        As much as I love Reddit I don't like seeing it being cited as a primary source in newspapers :(

    • Dave P
      August 9, 2013 at 6:00 pm

      A newspaper can be folded, but an online news story can be zoomed in on. A newspaper can be recycled, but websites don't need to be. The rest of your points are very valid though.

      I hate the First mentality, and it's resulting in erroneous news being reported all of the time. The 24 hour delay with printed newspapers is a massive issue, which is why I suspect many will evolve into publications detailing non-timely investigations or evergreen content.

      • dragonmouth
        August 9, 2013 at 10:20 pm

        "A newspaper can be folded, but an online news story can be zoomed in on. "
        But the screen you read it on remains the same size. A 17.3" laptop takes up a lot of room. :) My point is that a newspaper can be tailored to the amount of space one has available.

  5. Jeff Schallenberg
    August 8, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I get my news exclusively from digital sources - internet radio, internet news services, and network tv. The only paper news I get is a couple of free local rags, and even they now have websites.

    Save a tree! Get your news online (Internet/cable/satellite).

    • Dave P
      August 9, 2013 at 5:57 pm

      I hadn't even thought about the number of trees being cut down to prop up the print media!

      • dragonmouth
        August 9, 2013 at 10:25 pm

        Two can play this game. :) What about the natural resources needed to power the electronic media (natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear)?

  6. Howard Steele
    August 8, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    I think nothing can substitute the smell of a fresh newspaper :)

  7. Harshit J
    August 8, 2013 at 9:28 am

    No, internet cannot replace newspapers. The feeling of satisfaction that comes from reading a printed newspaper cannot be replaced by internet atleast till ereaders themselves don't become very very cheap. Both internet and newspapers have their own places. Try your self to read news from a news website and you will get bored very quickly unless the news is very important whereas with a newspaper, we start reading any article we see because we do not have to click the headline first to see the text.

    • Dave P
      August 9, 2013 at 5:55 pm

      Thanks for offering your personal perspective. I must say that I, as someone who hasn't read a newspaper in years, have a completely one though.

      The Internet means I can zone in on the stories and subjects that interest me without having to wade through the endless crap that doesn't. Such as celebrity news.

      • Harshit J
        August 10, 2013 at 3:55 am

        What I meant to say is that if with internet, you have will read the news you find important but not the news that you don't care about. Thus you don't make the effort the click that news and read about it. While with newspapers, even if the news if not much interesting, you still read atleast two-three lines because you have the opportunity to read it without have to click that headline first due to which newspaper readers read more news. The news in a newspaper is limited. If you try to do the same on internet, the news available in virtually unlimited.

  8. Kamal Nayan
    August 8, 2013 at 6:08 am

    The print media has nothing to do with the internet news media. The lusture in the print media is still here to stay. For example Warren Buffet's attachement to every daily news paper.

    • Dave P
      August 9, 2013 at 5:53 pm

      They are inextricably linked, no? I mean, the fact that as the Internet has grown more powerful print media has started to struggle suggests as much.

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