Tuesday, September 30, 2008


William Lobdell - For many years, I always thought that newspapers would successfully make the transition from a paper product to the Internet - though the process would be painful. I'm not so sure anymore. Here's why. The majority of Internet readers aren't looking for a comprehensive news report that is incredibly expensive to produce. Need evidence? Just look at the top-viewed stories on two Southern California newspaper sites. At this moment, the top stories on latimes.com are these:
The majority of the stories are commentaries on the news or crime briefs. The top-viewed stories don't reflect the work of 600-plus journalists busting their asses around the world. That's just not valued by Internet readers. Sad, but true. Okay, now take a looked at the Orange County Register's top-viewed stories:
Okay, what do we have? A dog photo contest. The Lakers. A weather story. And a crime story.

Both The Times and Register devote tremendous resources to provide readers with in-depth reporting from around the world. But do today's readers care? I would argue that they would rather read commentary (the reason why the Huffington Post has been so successful) and celebrity and crime news.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Internet advertising provides only a faction of the income as old-school print advertising revenue. So newspapers have to face two stubborn facts: the majority of readers don't want their in-depth, quality news coverage and (even if they did) advertising revenues won't support that kind of editorial heft.

Now we can argue what this means for our democracy or, more pointedly, to websites and bloggers when their free source of news dries up, but the facts remain. Readers and the business model won't support the expensive journalism newspaper operations produce.

In this case, it's two strikes and newspapers are out.

"Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America" will be in bookstores February 2009. The memoir, published by HarperCollins, is about Los Angeles Times journalist William Lobdell's spiritual journey while covering religion in America, which took him from evangelical Christian to someone who, reluctantly, no longer believed in God.


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