The Print vs. New Media Debate

Newspapers have dominated the news’ lately.

And not for reporting the news, but for being the news. The industry continues to struggle amid declining ad revenues and dwindling audiences.

Last week Tech Crunch’s Erick Schonfeld posted an article about a conversation he had Marc Andreessen, the man who invented Mosaic, the first widely used web browser. In the post, Andreessen advises media companies to “burn the boats,” so to speak and abandon their print products.

Embrace the web. Fully. Before it’s too late and other information competitors have the media industry beat.

Today, Schonfeld wrote a follow-up post to his “Burn the Boats” article. In it, he compared media companies and some journalists to dinosaurs happily munching on plants (advertising) instead of evolving.

The two posts have generated a lot of conversation. And for good reason. The debate here is a lively one, and worth reading for anyone interested in how technology will continue to shape newspapers, and the type of storytelling they practice.

One commenter on the latest post said this:

“I looked around at the people I was sharing the train with.

To a person- everyone that looked to be 40+ was either reading a book, talking on their cell or reading a newspaper/magazine (or sleeping).

The under 40 crowd? Just like me – people were on their cells doing, I am assuming, exactly what I was doing: browsing the web, using facebook, whatever. The point is they WEREN’T reading newspapers.”

And there lies the real issue.

Yes, this is a money issue, but also an audience issue.

I would love to see old media take more chances. Burning the boat sounds so romantic. Fun, even. I’d bet it would spur innovation.

However, until the majority of the audience on that train starts using digital tools to consume news, the media will continue to have to walk the line between burning the boat and just bailing out the water in the sinking ship.