The death of print

Stop the press! It’s happened, yes it’s finally happened. A national American newspaper, with an illustrious 100 year publishing history and seven illustrious Pulitzer prizes, has gone totally digital. Last week, the Boston based The Christian Science Monitor announced its decision to shift its daily news business entirely onto the Internet. In April of next year, the Christian Science Monitor, a newspaper begun in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy, the New England founder of the Christian Science movement, will stop printing its newspaper and will, instead, invest all its daily news resources into its enhanced, advertising supported CSMonitor.com website.

 The 100 year old Christian Science Monitor is merely catching up to early 21st century reality. In 1908, when Mary Baker Eddy first published her paper in order to keep her readers “abreast of the news”, technology limited publishers to distributing their product in the form of a physical daily newspaper. A hundred years later, the Internet publishing platform, with its instant global reach and shrinking technology costs, has turned the news business upside down. In today’s online world of instant publishing, where news junkies are hooked on up-to-the-minute information and commentary, a daily newspaper, printed or otherwise, is quickly becoming both a cultural and economic anachronism.

 The Christian Science Monitor might be the first national American newspaper to acknowledge this reality, but it won’t be the last to make the great digital leap forward. While The Monitor’s charitable status and its role as a domestic purveyor of overseas news makes the newspaper different from any other American dailies, the writing is now on the screen for the rest of the industry. Just last week, for example, the day before The Christian Science Monitor chucked its bombshell, the Los Angeles Times announced another 75 editorial redundancies in its increasingly skeleton staff, while the US Audit Bureau of Circulation revealed that in the first six months of 2008, sales of the top 500 American newspapers were down almost 5%. Even the grand old lady herself, the New York Times, is running on fumes with its advertising revenue down 13% and its classifieds down a catastrophic 28% just in September.

 Ironically, while our always-on culture is killing the daily newspaper, it isn’t having the same devastating impact on weekly news magazine. Indeed, at the same time that The Christian Science Monitor put out its obituary notice on its daily edition, it announced the birth of a physical weekly news magazine which it intends to publish at the weekends. Might, then, the more contemplative weekly magazine be replacing the daily newspaper as the most effective vehicle for keeping us truly “abreast of the times”?

 Maybe, maybe not. I do think that, in our always-on 24-minute news cycle media, the weekly gives the reader a little more distance to stand back from frenetic events and understand their relevance in more than just a daily context. And yet the same week that The Christian Science Monitor pre-announced the birth of its weekly news magazine, significant cuts were made a number of print magazines including Conde Nast which is making deep cuts at Men’s Vogue and Porfolio magazines and Time Inc which plan to lay off 600 members (10%) of its staff.

 But the headline remains the death of the daily print newspaper in America. Whether or not CSMonitor.com is successful, the real story about the website is where it came from rather than where it is going. The Christian Science Monitor’s decision is merely the first of a long string of obituary notices for once all-powerful print newspapers. The Los Angeles Times will probably be next, followed by the San Francisco Chronicle. There’s something eerily inevitable about this creative-destructive march of technology. It is like watching a vast car crash in the slowest of motions. Just don’t expect to read about the latest pile-up in your local print newspaper.