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November 20, 2008 By:
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By now, those who care about such things know that, after a century, The Christian Science Monitor has decided to discontinue publishing a weekday newspaper. The announcement came during the same week that Time, Inc., which oversees all those famous magazines, said it would be cutting 600 jobs and reorganizing its staff. Gannett, the largest newspaper publishing company in the world, also let it be known that it was laying off some employees -- up to 3,000 people, which amounts to 10 percent of its workforce.

David Carr, who writes on the media scene for The New York Times business section, gathered together these and other depressing announcements about the Tribune Company, Newark's Star-Ledger and TV Guide, in an effort to assess what's been called "the old media's decline," for his piece in the Oct. 29 issue.

According to the columnist, the paradox behind all these dire pronouncements is that "newspapers and magazines do not have an audience problem -- newspaper Web sites are a vital source of news, and growing -- but they do have a consumer problem."

He asked his readers to stop and think about where they were reading this column. If, in fact, they were one of the million or so people who were reading it in a paper that had landed somewhere in the vicinity of their front door, he informed them that they were in the minority.

His column, he pointed out, "is available to many more millions on [the Times'] Web site, in RRS feeds, on handheld devices, linked and summarized all over the Web."

From a historical perspective, noted the writer, most people over the years became interested in newspapers at about the time they bought a home. Now, he said, people are checking their BlackBerrys for mortgage rates.

Carr then quoted Clay Shirkey, the author of Here Comes Everybody, who made an obvious, but perhaps profound, point: "The auto industry and the print industry have essentially the same problem. The older customers like the older products and the new customers like the new ones."

For readers, as Carr so deftly pointed out, "the drastic diminishment of print raises an obvious question: If more people are reading newspapers and magazines, why should we care whether they are printed on paper?"

The columnist had to admit that the blogosphere has had its share of news breaks; but if, in fact, the bloggers didn't have a mainstream media to keep tabs on, it could get pretty quiet out there in cyberspace.

At a recent American Magazine Conference, wrote Carr, "one of the speakers worried that if the great brands of journalism -- the trusted news sources readers have relied on -- were to vanish, then the Web itself would quickly become a 'cesspool' of useless information. That kind of hand-wringing is a staple of industry gatherings.

"But in this case, it wasn't an old journalism hack lamenting his industry. It was Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google." 

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