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Newspapers: This too shall pass

These are dark days for the newspaper industry. Last week, the New York Times Company was threatening to shut down The Boston Globe if benefits weren’t cut. Warren Buffett, who boastfully reads five newspapers a day, told his shareholders he wouldn’t invest money in newspapers “for any price.” Meanwhile, Congress heard testimony from editors and journalists on the future of the medium, and The New York Times raised the price of their Sunday edition to $6. All the while, more and more journalists were handed pink slips.

To many people, newspapers are a thing of the past. They smell funny and smear ink all over the place; they require you to flip several pages to read the rest of a story, and the photo quality is never good. With the rise of the Internet, newspapers advertising revenue has plummeted, and subscriptions have diminished. But despite all this doom and gloom, is it really the end of newspapers as we know them?

The newspaper industry was caught with their pants down with the rise of the Internet. They ignored the threat it posed and didn’t plan properly. While requiring some people to pay hundreds of dollars a year in subscriptions, they allowed others to read the same material online for free. And now, with their profits plummeting and journalists on the streets, newspaper companies are crying for help.

But we’ve seen this story before. In the ’40s and ’50s, the movie and radio industries were in an uproar over a small, heavy box that began arriving in living rooms across the country: the television. News reels at movie theaters and evening radio programs like Gunsmoke became a thing of the past. Soon after, companies began wanting to charge Americans for “Community Antenna Television,” also known as cable TV. People were outraged at the nerve of those guys wanting to charge them for television.

And yet that furor passed. Today, almost everyone pays a monthly bill for cable, and the movie industry is alive and well, raking in billions of dollars each year. Newspapers are in danger, but what many in the business fail to realize is that times change. The future of newspapers likely won’t lie in a government bailout or legislation that makes The Washington Post a nonprofit.

It is no longer economically feasible to print newspapers on paper and truck them out in vans across the country. Some have proposed a system of micropayments similar to iTunes, where readers pay a nickel or so for a story, meaning that journalists would also be forced to produce a product people want to buy. If implemented there will likely be uproar and shouting about our rights as citizens. But that furor will likely pass as well.

As a generation, we’ve become pretty comfortable with not paying for stuff. We download movies and music for free and get our news with the click of a button. The idea of some bigwig telling us that we have to pay for something other than food or booze is unfathomable. But even for free, it’s never great. The movies are blurry and the sound is generally five seconds behind the picture and the music has static.

Many people want to be informed, but in the end you get what you pay for. It isn’t cheap to send reporters around the world, and as the industry suffers, we suffer.

The future of newspapers is unknown, and no one can predict what new media outlet may rise in their place. Despite how necessary many consider newspapers to be, it seems the majority think differently. Perhaps it’s about time the industry put that mentality to the test. The times change. And so will The Times.

Justin Snow is a sophomore history major. He can be reached at snowdbk@gmail.com.

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