Newspapers are doomed.

February 12, 2009

Up late during a windstorm, I caught a Charlie Rose roundtable on “The Future of Newspapers.”  He talks with Walter Isaacson, Mort Zuckerman, and Robert Thomson.

Based on what they said, all newspapers but the Wall Street Journal are utterly doomed.

Isaacson drives the point home with his plan to save the papers: micropayments.  When it comes out of his mouth, it sounds like a prayer.

(He also sounds like he doesn’t even know what the words he uses mean.  “Blogs, content,” etc.  When he talks about the Kindle– a solution without a problem– he perks up, because he knows people pay for it.  I’m reminded of a friend’s impersonation of Strom Thurmond grilling Bill Gates at the antitrust hearing: “Mister Gates, tell me about this magic box you’ve invented.”)

The one gem of insight came from Thomson, who’s more realistic than his compatriots.  (He’s also the one with a reasonable business model: WSJ gets a pass because its subscribes pay with the company dime.)  He says, “Google devalues everything it touches.”

Pretty much.

Speaking of just money, Guy Davenport wrote that it “has no eyes, no ears, no respect; it is all gut, mouth, and ass.”  Sounds like Google to me.  It vacuums “content” with no respect for what it ingests, with a business model that makes sense for it and not so much for everyone else.

They’re very good at what they do, and very convenient.  I use Google’s stuff every day.  But I’m not sure the tradeoffs are worth it.

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