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Death of Newspapers

Written by: Paul Motter

The Denver-based Rocky Mountain News folded today, and other newspapers are not far behind. The reason is competition from the Internet. But the question is, can you really trust the Internet to give you accurate and unbiased information when web sites no longer have newspapers to do the hard reporting we rely upon so often today?

CruiseMates is obviously a cruise travel related web site, but I decided to address this topic because our readers often want to talk about CruiseMates – the site.

Newspapers have always been primarily in the news business, which means they exist for the sole purpose of finding news and reporting it. Newspapers could afford to have several true “news” reporters on staff solely because they made enough money from the sale of advertising and subscriptions to be able to pay the salaries of these full-time reporters.

These reporters were most often responsible for paying their own travel expenses. They put themselves into the places they needed to be to get the news their newspapers lived by. This style of self-reliant reporting made the vast majority of newspaper reporters completely unbiased, able to take on the bad guys with no fear of retribution. Now, newspapers can no longer make enough money to pay for all their expenses, including the salaries of reporters.

The dissemination of news is quickly becoming the domain of the Internet, and of course cable news and radio.

So – have we lost an important part of our free press? Are we no longer able to rely upon the free-expression, unbiased and often exposing eye of the unbridaled newspaper press? Are the days of Woodward and Bernstein gone forever? Will corporations and policitians no longer be answerable to an unfettered press striving for truth above all else?

In some cases, yes. Look at travel coverage. The New York Times, for example, has a policy against printing any travel article for which the author has received a complimentary trip. Another paper with the same policy, the San Francisco Chronicle is in very serious financial trouble and may not last much longer. What is putting these famous newspapers on the brink of financial failure? A simple answer is one word; Craigslist. The amount of income local newspapers used to make from classified ads alone was once substantial. Craiglist, by offering exactly the same service for free, has almost completely eliminated this source of revenue. But there are more problems.

Even though the Sunday fliers that litter our living room floors every weekend may last a few more years, unfortunately, those Sunday ads alone are not enough to keep a daily paper in business. Nor are all the display ads combined throughout the week. Not when subscriptions and hence readership are dropping off so dramatically.

We will still have cable news and radio, both of which report a great deal of news online. Plus, some newspapers have made a successful transition to the web, USA Today for example, but the truth is even these newspapers will lose some reporting power solely because advertising on the Web does not pay nearly as much as print newspapers were able to make ten years ago.

Meanwhile, the question must be asked – can we trust the Internet to replace newspapers as a reliable source of news information? The answer is yes — and no.

The Internet has long had a reputation as a “Wild West” of information. You never know if what you are reading is white hat or black hat. An article you read on the Internet could be unbiased independent reporting, or it could be someone fraudulently trying to pump up a penny stock in order to make a quick (financial) killing.

This is because the Internet was originally designed to be a fully democratic model of information dissemination. Basically, anyone who can type can freely express an opinion on the Internet. But not everyone can build a web site that becomes well known enough that tens of thousands of people visit it daily. And that is the key.

Name recognition and reputation for web sites will count more and more as integrity in reporting migrates from dying newspapers to the Web. That is why web sites like CruiseMates have become far more relevent as time goes on, and will continue to grow year after year.

There will still be news channels like CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews and others to carry on the print tradition on the Web for awhile, but they will become far more video-oriented than they are already as the hard news sources they rely upon such as AP (Associated Press) and newspaper article syndication dry up. Even newspapers like USA Today who have already created a solid Web footing will lose reporting power if their network of Gannett empire regional newsprint newspapers die off in the coming years.

The news we will miss the most are the sources most deeply imbued with unbiased reporting independence. Whether you lean left or right, one thing that has arguably added to the demise of cable news supplied Web content is their obvious change in editorial policy over the last few years to subscribe to either one political persuasion or the other.

In the context of unbiased reporting – sites like CruiseMates already have more importance today than ever before. 2009 being our 10th year online, with the support of major advertisers, we feel that we have proven ourselves to be one of the most informative, accurate and unbiased sources of travel information anywhere.

Granted, we are primarily a cruise travel site. It isn’t hard to cover our field when the cruise lines themselves provide us with most information we ever need about a ship. But when it comes to bad news about the cruise industry, we also have an equal responsibility to report the news and I believe we have lived up to that.

I can say with confidence that we do not hold back editorially in any case. Just this last month we broached the topics of cruise ship entertainment mockery by the broader media, we talked about the challenges faced by Royal Caribbean in getting financing for its new Oasis-class of megaships, we regularly do articles on why you may be denied boarding a ship and lose your cruise fare, why you need travel insurance, notices when ships suffer malfunctions, the true rate of norovirus on cruise ships, how to write a complaint letter, the trouble with cruise ship art auctions and other matters.

I firmly believe you can trust CruiseMates to give you unbiased cruise information. We have never been one of those cruise sites that reads like a brochure no matter what any cruise line may do. We all know cruise sites like that, and we aspire to never be one of them.

CruiseMates is a solid number two in Google rankings for cruise review after the well-known Cruise Critic. If you add in our sister site, CruiseReviews.com, which also features CruiseMates staff cruise ship reviews, in most cases we come up with two out of three of the top spots when Googling for “cruise reviews” for any cruise line. The other listing, not always number 1, being Cruise Critic.

We have been doing cruise reviews for a long time, and have had reader reviews online since long before TripAdvisor and many other quality sites had the same idea.

But as newspapers and magazines falter and we become more isolated as a source of quality cruise information in the world we have to up the ante. We have already written some the best investigative cruise reporting online — I refer you to our expose on Windjammer Cruises, for example. What made that article so effective was our readers’ input. As we wrote the story more readers contacted us to add more to it. The more we added the more people read it and also contributed.

That is how the internet works best as a reliable and thorough source of news information. Getting people motivated to add more and more information about any given topic.

Here is what does not work. When people write to us with the pretense that they are giving us unbiased information, when in reality they are merely promoting their own agenda. Ultimately, it is up to us, as the editors, to discern what is truthful, important and relevant — and what is not.

More than ever we must rely on you, our readers, to supply us with the solid news we need. We urge and beg you to send us any and all factual information you have about any cruise line. If a cruise line misses a port or suffers an engine failure at sea, we want to know about it. If you happen to have a great cruise picture we want to see it. Email cruise information to “editor” at cruisemates.com. And always contribute all relevent cruise information to our CruiseMates message boards.

The world is changing. The future of news reporting is moving away from newspaper-style reporters and towards the devoted readers of web sites like CruiseMates. The key to our success is keeping our information relevent and accurate. Cruisemates does not aspire to be a catch-all for anything anyone wants to say about cruising, we strive the be the best source of cruise information online. An important aspect of this is keeping our message boards free from the noise and distractions of agenda-pushing, self-interested contributors.

The beauty of the Internet is that you can get as much news as you care to read about any single topic. The ugly side of it is that it is not always accurate solely because it comes to us so quickly and often from anonymous sources. And so we ask our readers to take our pledge, the one our editorial staff has taken since we started CruiseMates in 1999.

We will report all pertinent cruise information as accurately as possible in a timely manner. Accuracy comes first since being first to report an inaccurate nugget of information means nothing. We urge you to contact us anytime you have a verified piece of cruise news you think we can use. Doing this together, with your help, we can make the Internet the world’s most reliable and complete source of news information anywhere.

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Comments

Comment from Rita
Time March 4, 2009 at 9:25 am

Interesting the topic you have chosen to write about this week. I work for a pair of large daily newspapers in Philadelphia and just last week our company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The whole place is undergoing a massive restructuring right now, and I fear that many of our jobs will be gone over the next couple of months.

Why is this? Not just the internet, though the internet does play a role. It’s simply because the newspaper is no longer the best medium for getting timely news. At one time it was. We all read the stories when the cry once went out … “Hold the presses! Major story!” Today we couldn’t afford to hold the presses for anything short of maybe a President getting killed or the pope getting shot … and even then I wonder if a press run would really be interrupted. Stop the presses and you’ve got dozens of union truck drivers standing around drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, all while making Teamsters wages. Stop the presses and you have the area newspaper warehouses screaming because their customers are screaming … “Where the hell is my newspaper?!?!?!”

So, to get really timely news you need to tune into a news station on your TV, be it cable or analog. The newspaper just can’t cut it anymore.

Also, even in this age of newspapers, the “paper” part of that word is going away. Kindle editions, electronic editions readable on your Blackberry, online subscriptions … it is those things that are replacing the paper part of the newspaper. And guess what? They are far, far cheaper to produce and generally don’t require too much union labor to get it done.

So, yes … newspapers are dying today. But it is not necessarily the end of unbiased news reporting. Those “newspapers” will live on; just in an entirely reinvented format. The news will still get reported, though in a different manner than ever before. Newspapers are dying only because they have resisted change instead of embracing it. I would imagine newspapers are going through what the buggy manufacturers went through years ago … when the automobile first started hitting the highway. No one needed buggies anymore, but if those manufacturers had turned their attention to other areas … such as perhaps making customized seat covers and whatnot for the automobile … designing luxury interiors, etc. … they would have survived too.

Newspapers will reinvent themselves and live on … at least if they are smart they will. And though I may lose my job one day … and many of my coworkers will probably do the same … we will move on to other things, either inside the newspaper industry or elsewhere.

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