Kvetch of the Week: Protectionism for print

I’ve got no crystal ball to guide me here, but a likely recurring scenario in the online journalism world in the coming year will be that print-oriented Cassandras will take an even greater beating from the digerati than they have in years past.

There is the distinct possibility that 2009 will mean the end for a number of newspapers, including major metropolitan dailies that have been getting hammered in recent years. Denver, Detroit and Seattle are the most prominent cities to watch.

But there’s a growing impatience with those who blame the rise of the Internet and “free” journalism posted on news sites as a primary reason why newspapers are having such trouble. It remains a conundrum for newspaper companies, but also ignores decades of readership decline and the fact that media organizations across the board simply haven’t prepared for the digital age.

Former New York Times foreign corespondent and editor Joel Brinkley, now a visiting journalism professor at Stanford, recently suggested that newspaper companies get a federal antitrust exemption to start charging for content on their sites if they wish.

Yet would something like that be enough to stem the tide of readership to the Web? For the first time, more people are getting their news via the Internet than by reading the newspapers. Surely this trend will only increase.

It didn’t take long for Brinkley’s protectionist ideas to get a thorough flogging. Former newspaper journalist Steve Yelvington, now a new media strategist, tore into Brinkley’s thesis better than all the rest in this Christmastime Kvetch of the Week winner. Enjoy the wholesome good kvetchiness of this riposte:

“The truth about newspapers is that news is not, and never was, the real reason for home-delivered subscriptions. The real reason was entertainment. Even the act of reading the news was primarily an entertainment-seeking behavior. Gee, let’s just go around and cut everybody’s cable lines. And wrap the houses with tinfoil to keep out the radio signals. That’d save newspapers for sure.”

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