Blogs, newspapers, and the media future

The bottom of today's ProJo carries a notice indicating how the daily newsstand price of Rhode Island's dominant daily has climbed to 75 cents, the first such increase in 18 years. Considering the woes of the newspaper industry, this decision was certainly not made lightly.

The problem for newspapers is not that fewer people are reading them. Combined print-Web readership figures are impressive, but newspapers' Web-based advertising is far less profitable than the vanishing amount of dead-tree advertising.

Writing at RI's Future, Forsanri attributes the growth in readership of that site to dissatisfaction with, and distrust of, the MSM. I don't think that's entirely right. While blogs can make a stir with original reporting and commentary, such as Matt's recent post on RI's housing mafia, the blogosphere's growth is more a byproduct of a changing media landscape.

This can be seen in the explosive growth of HuffPost, as today's NYT reports:

When Ms. Huffington, the 57-year-old author and former conservative pundit, announced her plans for The Huffington Post three years ago, many critics dismissed the idea as a digital dinner party for her new liberal friends. But it has grown in ways that few, except perhaps Ms. Huffington herself, expected.

In February, The Huffington Post drew 3.7 million unique visitors, according to Nielsen Online, for the first time beating out The Drudge Report, the conservative tip sheet with which The Post is often compared. On Technorati, a blog search tool, The Huffington Post is the second-most-linked-to blog, behind only the technology site TechCrunch. As Roy Sekoff, the site’s editor, said, “We’ve always wanted to be part of the national conversation.”

When Barack Obama made his first public remarks about his controversial pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., he did so in a post on the site. “It was immediately picked up everywhere,” Ms. Huffington recalled. “It helps to be bookmarked by the mainstream media.” ....

According to one person who was briefed on discussions but was not permitted to speak for attribution, the company has at least looked at the value of the site if it were put up for sale, and a figure around $200 million was used. That would put the price at more than $50 for each visitor, a high valuation. Using the site’s internal figures, 14 million unique visitors for the most recent month, the price would be closer to $15 for each user.

This is well and good. In crisis, there is opportunity, and more Facebook and YouTube-style new media darlings will emerge in the months and years to come.

The danger, at least for now, is how very few blogs come remotely close to producing as much original reporting as dead-tree newspapers -- which are steadily downsizing and shrinking their commitments. Maybe TPM will serve as a model for a new way.

Yet even if Governor Carcieri and some of his supporters don't much like the ProJo these days, we should agree that the paper has long played an important role in rooting out corruption and wrongdoing. The shame will be if this tradition fades over time.

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