Jack Shafer pens a theory for Slate that newspapers are in decline because they no longer mint the social currency of cocktail conversations and barbershop gossip. Next to social media and microblogs like Facebook and Twitter, the daily paper can’t keep up with the conversation.
He’s right that we’re just as likely to talk about a blog post or a tweet as we are an article in the paper, but fueling fewer conversations is a symptom of the decline of print, not the cause. Everyone was already on the Facebook by the time he discovered it, meaning it was already the talk around the water-cooler. His theory skips over the part where print falls behind and new media steps up.
Here’s my theory: the rise of always-on broadband internet connections is the death of print. Suddenly, we decide our own level of involvement with the news. We choose video, podcast, RSS feed, email or text message, and we choose the sources. We don’t need gatekeepers like news editors to tell us what’s important and what we should read first. “The Internet” and “Social Media” and “The Blogosphere” aren’t the arbiters of social currency at all.
That’s why print is dead. Print is paying to read what some Medicare-eligible editor thinks you need to know the way he wants to tell it. Web-based media is what you want when you want it how you like to read it, hear it or see it, and it costs nothing.
Way back in 1981, when Shafer’s first New York Times landed on his doorstep, people loved the paper because it was cheap and daily. Once the internet was fast as hell and available 24/7, web-based news became the better mousetrap — it’s free (’cause your broadband is always on) and it’s instantaneous. Just like that, paying a few bucks a week to read about what happened yesterday became expensive and slow.
Welcome to the fucking future, my blogging-brethren. It’s ours.