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Folding Fishwrap?

(AP / CBS)
We've now gotten to the point where a columnist at BusinessWeek has dared to ask the question: Which major American newspaper should be the first to throw up its hands and stop publishing a print product?

Not "if," mind you, but "which."

As Jon Fine writes:

Killing print requires acknowledging not just that the old mode is dead but also that the future means less revenue and shrunken staffs. This is why it makes sense soonest at a money-losing newspaper already grappling with those realities, and one in a major city that generates enough local ad dollars to support a sizable online business.
So he believes that "the old mode is dead?" What does that mean, anyway? Mode meaning 'financial model?' Mode meaning 'people don't read papers anymore?' It's unclear. But since we're talking about the beginning of the end of one of America's most revered traditions, it's worth trying to nail that down.

It's well established at this point that I'm one of the planet's oldest [age redacted] year olds, so it will surprise very few that I cannot imagine a world without newspapers. True, BusinessWeek's Fine puts forth the Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle as potential pioneers due to their techie images – not, say, the Independence Examiner or the Billings Gazette -- and in doing so he acknowledges the proposition of killing a newspaper's physical version is a tough sell almost anywhere. (Actually, he says it better: "water has had a hard time finding a way up that hill.") No matter how Net Savvy a city may be, I can't imagine any metro region could part with its major daily.

Pulling for newspapers in the age of cable and Internet is a lot like being a baseball fan in an Ultimate Fighting world, but the answer isn't to pack up the concept and go home – it's to freshen up your product. Make stories a bit tighter and authoritative. Play to your strengths. Incorporate your web presence into your print edition and vice versa. Just as newspapers say "visit our website for more on this," isn't there a way to make that work in reverse?

And in a very hard-to-define way, I believe that reading a story online is actually a different experience than reading it off a page. With a newspaper, I feel like more of my mind is engaged, and I'm not rushing to click the bottom or the embedded link. To remove newspapers from society is to remove a way of approaching an issue and thinking about it. Am I alone? (Or sounding like America's Grampa?)

I'd like to think that what Fine is doing is less an actual suggestion than a ploy. But the losses he cites in his piece – a million dollars a week? – are more than a mere 'cry for help' from newspapers -- though not quite their 'last words.'