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Newspapers no longer provide social currency

Jack Shafer of Slate has written a commentary in Business Spectator about the demise of the print newspaper. In essence he maintains that the social web (Facebook, etc.) has replaced the newspaper’s traditional role of social currency.

Not that long ago, the daily newspaper was an indispensable coiner of social currency, and it gave its readers piles of the stuff in each edition. The phrase, which comes from sociology, is often used to describe the information we acquire and then trade â?? or give away â?? to start, maintain, and nurture relationships with our fellow humans.

Take, for instance, the voluminous results of newspaper sports pages. Terrific for sports fans, of course, but the sports pages have been used to grease sales calls, break ice on first dates, and fuel water-cooler bonding for a century. Even folks who don’t care for sports skimmed the sports pages for a little something about the games and athletes so they could engage in essential small-talk.

For as long as anybody can remember, the newspaper has been the primary info-hub through which people interacted. Oh, people might have talked to the shoe-shine man or their broker about what they heard on the radio or saw on television, but nothing could beat the newspaper as a source for socially lubricating conversation. How many times have you heard a conversation start, “Didja see that article …”?

Community Comments

#1 Jeff Darcy
August/6/2008
@ 9:26 am

Untold number of people have never even heard of Facebook,let alone used it. As newspapers are forced to cut pages to save on newsprint costs, they are putting the stories they no longer have print pages for on the web and are directing readers to it. But what’s being found in reader feedback, is that many readers hate that. They buy the paper because they want to read stories on the printed page not the web. Many newspapers still have a large number of readers who either don’t have a computer or don’t use it for news gathering. At our paper Sports continue to be the most popular pages both in print on the web.

#2 Jason Nocera
August/6/2008
@ 1:21 pm

I think it’s the web in general, not social networking sites. If someone wants to brush up on sports, they’ll probably go to espn.com, mlb.com, etc.

#3 josh shalek
August/7/2008
@ 10:26 am

I’d like to propose a drinking game for The Daily Cartoonist readers. Everytime we read someone’s pronouncement about “the death of newspapers,” take a shot of whatever you’ve got at hand. Rum, vodka, distilled water, OJ, coffee. The industry may be sinking like the Titanic but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun on the way down.

Some people (including writers for Slate) would love to see newspapers go away. That doesn’t mean newspapers will actually go away.

#4 Jeff Kersten
August/7/2008
@ 2:40 pm

My father told me at an early age that if you want to be a productive member of society you read the newspaper. My children will be informed the same as I was and Iâ??ll make sure my grandchildren know it, too. It just happens to be the truth, or at least WAS the truth. I agree that it is NOT any moral decline of the newspaper or itsâ?? many editors & publishers that is at the root cause of this mess. Radio, then TV and now the Internet have slowly drawn away what was exclusive to only the newspaper. Thatâ??s why it was once so widely circulated and read and such a cornerstone of US society.

Now, this is simply my opinion on this matter, but I canâ??t figure out why the newspaper industry in this country has not exploited those FEATURES that remain exclusive ONLY to the newspaper. For example, years ago the Sunday newspaper was always constructed with the Comics Section on the OUTSIDE of the paper. Why would they do such a thing, you ask? Simply, those full-size comic strips were AMAZING and fascinating with both high quality art and thrilling stories. Newspaper fiction has been lost for the most part but remains, like the comic strips, a missed opportunity. The crossword puzzle, the Jumble and now Sedoku are FEATURES that remain exclusive to the newspaper and unexploited by the editors.

Those beautifully colored Sunday comics for decades upon decades made the newspaper supreme to other mediaâ??â??â??radio, and then television. Why have newspaper editors shrunk such a VALUABLE asset into practical anonimity while the internet media has increasingly invaded their business model, distributing all they can away from newspaper to fatten their own bottom line? Iâ??ve never gotten a rational answer to this question, sadly. It remains an opportunity. Will the newspaper take advantage of what is UNIQUE to only them or miss an opportunity to reverse this path to obsolescence?

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