Are newspapers finally embracing the Web?

Leave it to a former rockcrit — and a McClatchy employee (the company just cut 10% of its workforce nationally) — to come up with an eloquent essay on the decline of the newspaper industry and the ascension of the Internet.

Online people, myself included, have been saying for years that the Web should be first in news priority, and that journalists shouldn’t think that they work for newsPAPER companies, but instead NEWS companies. Maybe, coming from an august writer like Leonard Pitts, a world-class columnist at the Miami Herald, this idea will start to sink in with those of you who still have ink in your veins.

He sounds like speeches and conversations I heard going on a decade ago, but better late than never, I say:

We still tend to regard our websites as ancillary to our primary mission of producing newspapers. But I submit that our primary mission is to report and comment upon the news and that it is the newspaper itself that has become ancillary.

So maybe we should regard the Internet not as an extra thing we do, but as the core thing we do.

He’s a bit off the mark thinking that websites can charge like newspapers — only the WSJ can get away with that, and they may not keep it up much longer with Rupert Murdoch at the helm. People are only willing to pay for a couple of things on the Web, porn first and foremost.

Maybe Pitts hasn’t noticed, but selling the print edition isn’t working either … most newspaper companies find creative ways to give away a lot of copies to keep their numbers afloat, and circulation is still shrinking along with print advertising revenues.

Still, Pitts is more optimistic than Microsoft’s Steven Ballmer, who dropped a bomb a coupla weeks ago when he predicted to the Washington Post that newspapers will be dead and gone in 10 years:

In the next 10 years, the whole world of media, communications and advertising are going to be turned upside down — my opinion.

Here are the premises I have. Number one, there will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form.

For the record, I think Ballmer’s being simplistic and obnoxious just to make a point (he’d probably make a good rockcrit, come to think of it).

I give newspapers much longer than a decade, and in fact, I think they might stick around for a long time if they can evolve to suit new audiences and expectations, like Coloradan Dan Pacheco’s two-year project called “printcasting,” which brings a “Web 2.0” approach to print publishing.

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