Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron said what many in the newspaper industry have known for years but have refused to admit publicly—newspapers will not last, no matter how hard the industry tries to save them.
Baron made his remarks while delivering the the 2015 Hays Press-Enterprise lecture at the University of California, Riverside on Tuesday night. The speech was titled “Journalism’s Big Move: What to Discard, Keep, and Acquire in Moving From Print to Web.”
In his talk, Baron said that after a long career in journalism he is both excited and anxious about the future of journalism. Excited, because journalism is being reimagined at this time; anxious, because the traditional economic model is disintegrating.
Baron went on to cite a raft of figures on how the rapid growth of high-speed Internet has led to the birth and phenomenal rise of social media, and helped fuel the movement toward mobile devices as a source of news. But, he added, the industry will need to abandon some long-held notions about newspapers:
We can start by discarding the lingering notion that paper will remain for long a big part of what we do. It will not. For a while, yes. But it will not last.
The newspaper remains, as of today, a predominant source of revenue for organizations like ours. But the revenue it produces is declining sharply. Advertisers are leaving. Most readers prefer to get their information from digital sources.
It’s wrong to say we’re becoming a digital society. We ALREADY ARE a digital society. And even that statement is behind the times. We’re a mobile society. Eighty percent of adults on earth are expected to have a smartphone by 2020.
Let’s also abandon the idea, still common in newsrooms, that what’s on the front page is more important, has greater value, carries greater prestige than what we disseminate on the web. It isn’t more important.
While I may disagree with many of Baron’s editorial decisions since joining the Post, in this case he is right on the money. Newspapers are dying and the industry needs to admit it. It needs to move quickly to deliver the news to a highly mobile and digital savvy audience in ways that they want to receive it, while at the same time attracting advertising dollars to pay for the technology required to do so. But that won’t be an easy task.