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January 5, 2009

Persisting with a False Dichotomy

"Web Passes Papers as a News Source," the New York Times headline this morning says. Which is sort of like saying that rectangles have passed squares as shapes. Squares are a category of rectangles; newspapers are a category of all the news sources available online.

The Times item, based on a Pew report, explains that the finding "does not represent a decline in the popularity of newspapers, which actually picked up a percentage point over last year. Rather, it represents a near-doubling, from 24 percent last year, in the number of people naming the Internet as their primary news source" for national and international news. (Two quibbles: The Internet was cited by 40 percent of respondents, which is not at all close to double 24 percent. Also, the item doesn't mention another finding of the report, which is that TV remains by far the most popular source for national and international news.)

But the way we talk about things matters, and newspapers continue to present a false dichotomy that pits newspapers against the Internet. Print is withering; witness the news event occurring today on the Times' own front page, which for the first time carries a display ad. (Remember when we had the luxury of outrage over page 1 display ads?) But newspapers' survival is not an either-or, print-vs.-online proposition, and to shape the public conversation that way is to increase the peril we're in by encouraging a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to figure out how to sell all those eyes that are already consuming newspapers online. We don't need to concede defeat to a medium that has made it easier than ever to reach an audience hungry for journalism.
January 5, 2009 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)

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