Daniel Schwarz ’65 AM, ’68 PhD offers the latest take on the grim future for the printed newspaper (“The Future of Print News,” POV, November/December). I saw the beginning of the end as a marketing manager for the San Jose Mercury News in 1993, when we were the first paper in the country to publish our full text online, daily, through AOL.
For the next six years, we and our parent company, Knight Ridder, tried a variety of ways to preserve the ridiculous margins generated by our classified ads. It didn’t take a visionary to see that would never be sustainable once the closed garden of AOL content was breeched by the openness of the Internet. Still, newspapers couldn’t see beyond their past to a future based on high-volume, low-margin electronic ads.
When I left Knight Ridder in 1999, it was in part out of frustration with the company’s myopic focus on the short-term protection of its print ad products (we gave away ads online if you bought one in the paper). I joined a small start-up that had no legacy products to support and had its own ideas about how advertising could be improved. Since then, they’ve done pretty well with an online-only service they call AdWords.
Unfortunately, I’m not as optimistic about the New York Times print edition. In fact, I believe they crossed the Rubicon when they made it possible to download the crossword onto an iPad. Now there’s nothing a newsprint edition offers you that can’t be replicated electronically, unless you own an unruly pet. The future of journalism, however, is not tied to the printed page, as groups like ProPublica and Maplight.org prove (disclaimer: I’m a supporter of both organizations). Innovation in online reporting is only beginning and promises to offer as much or more than ink on pulp ever could. I, for one, look forward to what lies ahead.
Doug Edwards ’80
Los Altos, Calif.