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Invasion of the Copy Snatchers · Friday August 21, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

If you want to understand the nightmare facing the newspaper industry you need look no further for their perspective than that of Donald Sutherland’s character in the movie ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’.

Newspapers had evolved to a harmonious form where each copy was in effect a small, portable version of the world wide web. A little bit of news on any subject you could think of, updated daily, distributed overnight to millions, and the access fee was just a few pennies.

Unfortunately, the world is much larger and more diverse than a newspaper or even several (including more specialist journals and monthly magazines), so in continually striving to maximise revenue each newspaper must maximise its attractiveness to the lowest common denominator of its potential market. As Paul Gillin observes in Blaming the Editors, this makes it a poor competitor to the web with its wealth of well written websites on every subject a news thirsty individual could wish for – no matter how peculiar their interest.

So pity the poor newspaper, feeling that it has a far greater claim to inherit the earth than the invading hordes of individual upstarts, bloggers and tweeters – those aliens who have manifested themselves in their world as recently as ‘last night’ in their time frame. And sympathise at its dismay that each blogger of all those overrunning its territory is a dumb weakling in comparison, with a fraction of the newspaper’s aggregate resources and audience reach. And what’s worse, these blasted bloggers are imposters, pretending to be newspaper journalists.

Everywhere the newspaper goes it finds it and its fellows persistently seduced to “Join us”, “Become part of our web”. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that each time this happens either it runs away screaming in terror, or, if it is canny, it pretends that it has joined the web. It behaves as if it is now fully integrated online, but actually it isn’t, it stubbornly and stalwartly retains its true and original nature. Even now some of us have raised the alarm, “This online newspaper isn’t linking except to itself! It’s not one of us!”.

The newspaper is doomed. It may survive in vestigial form in some underground habitat, but despite its heartfelt belief that it deserves to survive, we will soon see it as an assimilated form, its quaint iconography re-created online as a historical curio of how news was once communicated in the form of ink on paper. Let’s not forget though, even newspapers adopted fonts designed not for mechanised metal type, but for the manual graving by those they displaced.

At the end of it all, if you are a remaining traditionalist looking on at the fall of a newspaper you have grown up with since childhood, the web is an insidious monster to be thwarted in order to preserve that which you love. On the other hand, if you are already an assimilated denizen of the digital domain, you will remain mystified that Luddites persist in their intransigence, looking at everything you say in horror.

Join us. There is no copy.



 

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