One of my favorite places to stroll around in Manhattan is the Meatpacking District, just a few blocks from where I lived the summer I worked at the New York Daily News.
The giant trestles, unused since the 1980s, once used to hoist freight trains safely above pedestrian traffic but now stand silently rusting above passersby below. The structures were built to last, and last they did, well past their usefulness, past not only their own era of trains but past a period of local poverty and crime and into a new one of redevelopment.
Could their builders have imagined an era where they became more ornamentation than bare utility?
Last week, walking through the same neighborhood, I was reading other people, on Poynter’s Online Journalism e-mail list, debate the same question about newspapers: Are these structures that have outlived their function?
What kicked off the discussion was a link to a PRI podcast with Stephen Engelberg, Managing Editor of ProPublica.org, who said 90% of newspaper revenue goes to non-news gathering functions. “This notion of a piece of paper delivered by courier to your doorstep is really quite quaint and 19th century and its very costly,” Engelberg said (here’s the MP3, that bit is around 12:18 according to the poster).
Eventually, someone responded with:
My 15 year old daughter thinks it is funny that I read a newspaper every day. It's such a "Dad" thing to do... There is no way to get her to read the thing...
I wanted to meekly reply, “Has she seen Sudoku?” After adding the puzzle a paper close to my heart saw print readership shoot up well over 50% in less than a year for that coveted “lost demographic.”
But even the best of such strategies, I fear, are just stop gaps for most papers.
- The Friends of the Highline have put together a history on those trestles.
- Subscribe to Poynter's Online News discussion
- Inferior, web-based Sudoku which lacks its print brethren's tactile feedback.
- Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that newspapers suck on the Web muses Patrick Thornton.