11:32AM Oct 25, 2011 in category General by Madeline Harrington

At a luncheon on Monday, TMZ.com founder Harry Levin said what everyone has been thinking for years: newspapers and magazines should get out of the print business, because it is dying. This is hardly a new idea, but it’s interesting to see that Levin, a man who’s made his (substantial) fortune off celebrity gossip and scandals, is so far ahead of traditional news outlets in his understanding of our changing culture.

As older generations step down to make room for younger people, they take with them the traditions of their time, one of which is print journalism. Soon we will be at a point where the people in charge of businesses, government, and the media have been participants of computer culture all their lives. Soon there will no longer be a generation that recalls a time without the Internet. Because of this, it can hardly be expected for these rising generations to discard their own habits in favor of the traditions of those who came before them – no one thinks for a moment that a person who has spent his entire life gathering news from the Internet will suddenly turn to printed sources.

Although Levin may not be the most respected name in journalism – he makes his money by hounding celebs, exposing sex scandals, and even perpetuating rumors – his business model and quick adaptation to the changing scenery of journalism should be respected. Launched only in 2005, TMZ.com is now the top entertainment-news site in the world, welcoming about 20 million visitors each month. In addition to the website, TMZ also has a syndicated TV show, a radio program, and a bus tour.

Levin claims that unlike other traditional media outlets, he’s got a good handle on the changing tastes and needs of consumers. He believes that newspapers and the like have clung to printed papers too long just out of tradition. Why newspapers feel they need to preserve the newspaper itself, Levin doesn’t know. It’s not making them more money, and it isn’t helping them adapt to changing times. Essentially, he believes they are living in the past, and other media outlets will quickly put them out of business if they continue to stand still.

Sociologist and author Brian Solis agrees with Levin’s ideas, although he tempers his opinion slightly. “It’s an online world now so most people have access to news as it happens, whether it’s on their desktop, notebook, or phone,” said Solis, in an article from 2007. But he gives a different reason than Levin for the death of newspapers. “People also have immediate access to posting and browsing classifieds ads in the same way as news. Classifieds are the lifeblood of many newspapers.”

Solis goes on to say, “old school news professionals and the people running the business of traditional news need to adapt and realize that there is an incredible shift transpiring while they sit in denial.” This is exactly Levin’s point, and as Solis makes clear with his report published 4 years ago, this idea is hardly a new one.

But the question must be asked, then – if the media has known for years the direction media will go in and ultimately the form it will take, why haven’t they adapted? Rather than respond to declining profits and web media’s ability to scoop them on the daily, newspapers and magazines haven’t made any very significant changes to their business models. As Solis puts it, they need to “get hip to the Live Web. That’s the one with verbs such as write, read, update, post, author, subscribe, syndicate, feed and link.” 

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