In a panel discussion heard ’round the publishing world, Newser media columnist and notorious inflamatory-claim-making-attention-whore Michael Wolff claimed that 80% of newspapers will be dead and gone within 18 months. Also present for Wolff’s proclamation of doom was Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, on whom Wolff pinned most of the blame for the newspaper shit storm that’s well under way. (The oft-repeated idea here being that Craigslist done stole the classified business from papers.)
Not one to lie down and take it, Newmark in turn pinned the blame on sloppy reporting that doesn’t live up to public expectation. “They failed on that weapons of mass destruction thing. And they failed on that financial collapse thing,” he said. Both true, but neither argument is central when it comes to the demise of the printed word.
On the one hand you’ve got Wolff fawning for the cameras and bitching about Craigslist when the fact that Craigslist now claims most of the classified ad content in the US is true but irrelevant. Yes, it happened and print can’t sustain itself without that business. But local papers could easily outdo Craigslist in terms of localized personals (bikes for sale, etc.), they just haven’t gotten their shit together enough to do so. The problem is not just a loss of classified revenue, it’s a lack of ingenuity. That said, I still think most papers have got a little more than 18 months.