Press Talk: Life without newspapers?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor

Published:

 

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor emeritus. His column of personal opinion appears the first Saturday of every month. Reach him at lounews1@gmail.com.

What the heck would you do without newspapers?

You’d be lost. Nothing to do. You’d likely spend your time hanging out on the back deck with a cold Dos Equis hoping “Pokémon Go” would find you!

Or — because scientists have warned us — maybe you’d lie in a lawn chair waiting for the sun to explode, sucking you into the oppressive heat.

(And you thought today was hot?)

You see, without newspapers, life as you know it would not be the same.

I’m not kidding!

And let’s be clear. I’m talking about real newspapers. Not political operatives who start blogs, or politicians who swear they are citizen journalists.

Nope. I’m talking about the real deal. The legitimate journalists trying to grind out a living in newsrooms.

But we’re struggling to do our job for you because of finances. The public knows this because — you guessed it — newspapers have reported it.

Why? Essentially, the internet has disrupted the newspaper business model in two major ways:

  •  It gave advertisers infinite options, vastly decreasing the amount of money they had to spend with newspapers.
  •  It gave readers infinite options to obtain information, oftentimes for free, reducing the need for readers to pay newspapers for it.

But here’s where it gets tricky. All that news you’re reading on Facebook and Twitter? That blogger news? The bulk of that substantial news you’re watching on TV? Guess where it’s coming from.

Newspapers.

Yep. Television news guys or gals do not begin their day with a cup of coffee. They begin with reading a newspaper. (Or a newspaper’s website.)

Same is true with your favorite bloggers. If they didn’t have a newspaper story to link to so they could complain about how bad newspapers are, why, you’d just mostly see cat videos from them.

It’s all coming into focus now, right? Newspapers do the heavy lifting. Oh, TV stations are the best at car accidents and shootings and hot weather, because that stuff is super simple to do.

But real news, stuff you have to dig for? That’s us. We do it. If they report it, they’ve taken it from us.

The Oliver twist

I was thinking about all of this after watching a John Oliver TV piece on newspapers. He’s the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”

It was a sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes raunchy bit on the state of newspapers. If you go to our website, we’ve posted a link to it.

It mostly covered what newspapers have been saying for years. But he wrapped it all together in a very entertaining way.

Looking for the formula

Now, I don’t want you to feel we’ve given up. We haven’t. We are looking for the secret sauce that will put the pieces back together again in a way that is vibrant and sustainable.

We’ve put together teams that are experimenting with new and different ideas. (Old guys like me are not allowed in.)

Fresh faces, fresh ideas. And I’m hopeful.

But in the meantime, expenses can’t exceed revenues. That’s why you’ll see layoffs at so many newspapers. We just had one.

In the end, you — the readers — become a key part of the solution. Paying a fair price for what we give you is key. Just like paying for milk and bread.

But what about all that talk that we’re in trouble because we’re too liberal? That’s just silly talk. We already endorse about as many Republicans as we do Democrats. And no, more cat/raccoon stories isn’t the answer. We do those stories, along with hot weather stories, but that’s not the heart of our business.

Truth is, democracy needs us. We keep tabs on those pesky politicians, uncover wrongdoing and inform you on the wild and crazy things going on.

So remember, if we dry up, so do TV news, our favorite bloggers and all those websites that love to comment on our community.

And that guy hanging out on his deck waiting for the sun to explode?

Do me a favor. Until that happens, subscribe. And I promise you we’ll give you a heads-up when that sun explosion thing is about to happen. You’ve still got a few billion years.