The Printed Blog Newspaper: Really?

Entrepreneurs are trying to resurrect the newspaper by printing blogs.

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This story could have run in the Onion, but instead it's in the New York Times: An enterprising publisher is trying to resurrect the newspaper industry by printing blogs on newspaper, to hand out for free in Chicago and San Francisco. The Printed Blog is receiving its content for free from blogger volunteers, and is edited by volunteers as well. It will earn revenue from ads.

I don't think I even need to go over why this is not good for the environment. A blog has a small carbon footprint, using energy to host the site and power the computer it's written on. Take that blog and add ink, reams of paper, energy consumed in the printing process and emissions from transporting the finished product, and it's pretty obvious that it won't be a publication where any die-hard eco-bloggers will deign to submit their work (though the first issue features content from EcoGeek).

But let's get to the Printed Blog's mission: changing the way we consume media, and saving journalism (a goal that I, along with every other journalist with an interest in self-preservation, obviously support). "We hope to play a pivotal role in reversing the fortunes of the sinking newspaper industry with this new-media project," says the company's site. The Printed Blog will be hard-pressed to meet those goals for several reasons.

Many people who read newspapers enjoy the feel and portability of a newspaper in their hands. Portability, in fact, is one of the publication's selling points on their site: "[The Printed Blog] can still be enjoyed on the train or spread across the breakfast table, for an uninterrupted, pleasurably tactile experience." This may have worked as a strategy a few years ago, when reading a blog was something that one could only do at a computer. Now, we all have iPhones and Blackberries where we can pull in RSS feeds from our favorite blogs - on the train, at the breakfast table, or anywhere else we please. Soon, we'll have e-newspapers as well. It's also likely that many (though not all, since I don't want to generalize) of the people who enjoy the tactile pleasure of turning pages, getting ink on their hands, and completing a crossword puzzle in pen are people who don't read blogs much to begin with.

Those readers - the ones who like newspapers because they are traditional - will not be enamored with the content of the paper. The content of the first issue for Chicago, which I downloaded from the site, is heavy on sex advice and rants, and light on news analysis. It's the stuff that makes a subway ride bearable but not informative (and it will be an interesting experiment to watch as the Printed Blog goes hyper-local, printing editions by the neighborhood). The hyper-local model will also be what allows the newspaper to sustain itself, as it can target the tiniest of neighborhood retailers for advertisements.

That's how the Printed Blog may be able to survive as a printed newspaper, but that's not the same as "reversing the fortunes of the sinking newspaper industry." The problem with the model is the content, which is culled from anywhere on the web and curated by a staff of volunteers. Newspapers are not just about the physical product - they are about the stuff printed on those pages, and posted on its website. To reverse the fortune of the sinking newspaper industry, we need to figure out how reporters who produce original, factual and relevant content fit into the equation.

In this model, they don't. The bloggers who are featured in the paper - more akin to storytellers than reporters, but that's what the paper is going for, it seems - have a chance to earn money from the paper's ad revenue, but the paper has not said how much. Talent is an expensive part of running a newspaper, but it's often also what makes the paper worth picking up, either as a trusted source of information or just a diversion on a subway ride. By filling this gap with bloggers, the paper has upped the entertainment and sexiness of a printed product, and kept their costs down. But though it may provide pages for subway readers to turn for months or years to come, without this crucial part of the equation, the Printed Blog is not the savior of the newspaper business. Let blogs be blogs.


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