By Mike McCurry
On November 5, people across the country lined up at newsstands, convenience stores, and coffee shops to snag a copy of the morning paper, a keepsake from the 2008 election. But they didn’t need the paper to tell them who had won the presidency; the news of Barack Obama’s historic win had already been gathered, broadcast, beamed, and packet-switched around the globe countless times. In fact, almost every word in almost every paper had already been available for free online for hours. “You can’t put a computer screen into a scrapbook,” one woman told the Washington Post as she waited in line.
Microsoft Chief Counsel for Intellectual Property Strategy Thomas C. Rubin sees a problem in that situation for the future of the newspaper industry, and rightly so. Physical sales of newspapers have been declining significantly as the combination of 24-hour news channels and the Internet has replaced the once-daily print edition of the local paper. As Rubin recently told the UK Association of Online Publishers, “It would be one thing if print editions were being replaced with vibrant and profitable online versions. But as we all know, that is just not happening. Today we are still searching for healthy symbiosis between newspapers and new technology.”
As Rubin notes, a free and open press is essential to a vibrant and successful democracy, and the press must learn to adapt to the digital world. That evolution may be painful, but the landscape for the newspaper business as a whole doesn’t have to be as bleak as some would paint it. If the forward-looking, collaborative spirit that has taken root in the entertainment industry is any indication, the future for online journalism may not be so bleak after all.