BY CHRIS SATULLO INQUIRER COLUMNIST We’re living inside a Gutenberg moment. The advent of the Internet is a watershed in human history no less epochal than Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of movable type. Nowadays, the changes cascade far more rapidly than they did back when producing books stopped being the province of cloistered monks. It’s no wonder that, beneath such a cascade, so many feel drenched and disoriented. That the Internet is a big deal is not exactly breaking news. But a flurry of items in the New York Times’ Business Today put into high relief the scope of the changes the Web has wrought: Two reports on newspapers in distress.
At the Wall Street Journal, there’s anxiety and talk of betrayal as Rupert Murdoch installs his people, sending the old guard packing with pockets full of cash, but muzzles across the mouth. Halfway across the land, the venerable Capital Times of Madison, Wis., gives up the ghost, with hopes of clinging to an afterlife as an online publication. It’s been only 15 years since the moment you first heard of the World Wide Web. Since then, stories about how the Internet is killing the newspaper have become as common as porn sites. But the Capital Times is one of the first to throw in totally with the new medium. And the Journal, smartly targeted at an elite national audience, would seem to be the last paper likely to get the shakes. But it has ’em.
The Net has eaten away at newspapers from two ends. It blew up the business model that for a century made publishing newspapers insanely lucrative. And it created opportunities for a different kind of journalism: looser, speedier, more egalitarian and entrepreneurial. Professional journalists – clinging both to dead status and wise values – were slow to embrace the changes. Even though enthusiasts of new media love to gibe that traditional journalists “just don’t get it,” we’ve actually been quick on the uptake compared with our colleagues on the business side. They let their lunch get stolen over and over by the likes of Monster.com, Amazon.com and Craig’s List.Business texts speak of “disruptive innovations.” Those who suffer most during disruptive innovation are those most wedded to the profit churned up by the old models. To wit: newspapers. MORE