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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Newspaper Printing: New Orleans Times-Picayune to Print Fewer Days a Week

I am a fan of print in general (and, more specifically, newspaper printing). I must acknowledge my bias. So I pay particular attention to news articles about the death of print.

As many of you may know, the New Orleans Times-Picayune will now publish their print edition only three days a week. This is necessary to save money according to Advance Publications, Inc., the newspaper printer/publisher.

On this topic, I recently read an article called “What Happens When a Newspaper Is Just Another Digital Voice?” and I wanted to share with you some of the concerns and implications raised. For those who wish to read the article and comments, I encourage you to go to the following Gigaom website:

The Thesis of the Article

“What Happens When a Newspaper Is Just Another Digital Voice?” questions whether a newspaper has a duty to be a consistent voice, analyzing and critiquing the power structure within a community (i.e., a watchdog). Furthermore, when newspaper publishers cease to produce a daily print version, and instead move their news to the Internet, can they still provide a powerful, credible voice, or is their “brand” diluted by this shift?

The article and the comments that follow encourage the reader to think about these questions and their implications without providing definitive answers. This is far too complex an issue for a simple answer. However, I think the article does raise some cogent questions about the future of newspaper printing.

Here are some of the questions posed. Most of them address the purpose of a newspaper, as well as its power, reach, voice, and credibility:

  1. Does a newspaper serve a public purpose? Does it have a responsibility to provide credible information and analysis of community life and organizations? That is, is a newspaper responsible for being a watchdog that protects the interests of the community?
  2. If a newspaper has this responsibility, can it be as effective within a digital-only platform as it is through a physical printed product? Does it still have the same effectiveness, or is it less accessible and therefore less effective (keeping in mind that not everyone has Internet access, but, on the other hand, not everyone subscribes to a community newspaper)?
  3. Does the daily nature of a newspaper (in contrast to the reduced frequency of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and other, similar newspapers) provide the consistency that sustains its critical voice? Does a reduced frequency mean the editors and writers aren’t paying attention all the time? Or that the newspaper printers and publishers aren’t as committed to being a reliable source of information?
  4. Is cost cutting a reflection of a diminished intent? Is the purpose to inform the community, make money, or do both? If advertising revenue declines (as it has in newspaper display and–particularly–classified advertising), and if there is less money to pay investigative reporters, will this loss of editorial expertise and analysis diminish the quality of both the print version of the newspaper and its digital version?
  5. Since print is a tactile medium (with a physical presence), does a print newspaper have more credibility than a digital version (which has no physical presence)? Does a print newspaper stand out within a sea of digital news sources?

The Final Outcome?

According to “What Happens When a Newspaper Is Just Another Digital Voice?” declining print advertising leads to less money in hand to pay for print publishing and less money to pay for quality reportage and editorial services. This leads to the diminishing quality and therefore the diminishing authority of a newspaper, in print or online. People look to the newspaper as less and less of an authority.

The article proposes that “once your newspaper has been stripped of the magic of print—the same magic that makes you far more appealing to advertisers than the amount of time spent with your medium would seem to indicate—you become just another digital voice among thousands or even millions of other voices.”

Here’s My Opinion

Is this really true? Or can a newspaper put enough resources into making both the digital and print versions of the newspapers credible authorities? A lot of this comes down to money or, rather, finding ways to make money within a new business model.

I do believe that a printed newspaper is more consistent than a digital version. A physical copy of a newspaper is the same for each reader. Everyone gets the same news, whether they like it or not. I think this creates a consensual reality, a body of facts and opinions to agree with or challenge.

In contrast, if you can pick and choose what news you will get, creating your own digital news feed using a news aggregator, then you, I, and everyone else will get slightly (or completely) different news. And then the whole body of facts and opinions will start to get muddy. (This is already happening with promotional pieces couched as hard news, advertorials, and such.)

Also, a printed copy is more permanent. It cannot be altered once it has been distributed, whereas a newspaper that exists on the Web can be changed or rewritten entirely.

In addition (and the article actually does not address this topic), some people think that democratized reporting is enough. That is, if everyone has access to the Internet and can blog about areas of interest, criticizing and correcting each other to improve their accuracy, isn’t this enough? Do we really need the editors and other experts to curate information, valuing some sources more highly than others?

If newspapers cannot afford to pay reporters and editors, and all news becomes crowdsourced (sent to news aggregators as blogs and tweets), there will be no experts to provide commentary.

Whether you agree with the pundits or not, at least they challenge you to think.

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