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TUPPER: News will live forever, even if paper doesn't

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opinion Mitchell, 57301

Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

According to the news division of KELO-TV, newspapers are in trouble.

That's not exactly a "STOP THE PRESSES!" kind of scoop. By now, stories about the decline of printed products are as clichéd as the stiffly coiffed hair atop a television anchor's head.

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A newspaper-industry representative alerted me to the KELO report in advance of its airing Monday night. In a sign that traditional TV newscasts are in just as much trouble as printed newspapers, I had no interest in waiting several hours for the 10 p.m. news and then persisting through a half-hour broadcast for the one segment I wanted to see. Just like everyone else, I've grown accustomed to getting the news I want when I want it. So I watched the five-minute report Tuesday morning on my office computer and skipped the rest of the program.

The story was well reported by one of KELO's veteran journalists, but it was full of the same old stuff about print that we've all been hearing for years. Meanwhile, "newspapers" -- which are organizations much broader than a printed product -- are still here, still reaching millions of people every day across this country. At The Daily Republic, we still circulate 11,700 printed copies six days a week. That's only about 400 fewer papers than the pre-universal-Internet days of the early 1990s, even though the population of our 17-county print circulation area has declined by nearly 4,000 people since then and our free website -- which conventional wisdom said would kill our subscriber-based print edition -- has grown from non-existence to an audience of 60,000 people per month.

I'm not stupid. I know that printed newspapers are suffering bigger losses elsewhere, as noted by KELO. But the KELO report, like nearly all such reports on the future of newspapers, is grounded in a faulty assumption about the nature of the newspaper business. KELO and most other observers seem to think newspaper companies are in the business of applying ink to paper. Heck, even some within the newspaper industry have fallen prey to that silly idea.

The truth is that newspaper companies are not, and never were, in the printing business. They're in the news business. Granted, for a very long time, the medium of the printed page was the best, most profitable, customer-preferred way for newspaper companies to sell their written news and still photographs. That's finally changing, and newspaper companies are adapting and delivering their content in additional ways.

And it's not as though newspapers are alone in their predicament. Television companies are facing a similar problem as viewers migrate to on-demand, Internet-based services like Netflix and Hulu. Book publishers face challenges brought on by e-readers.

It's change, not death, at least for those who realize the message is more important than the medium. The medium is just the means by which the message is delivered, and mediums have always and will always change with technology.

People have been buying newspapers for a long time, but their purchasing decisions have never been motivated by a desire to own large, inky sheets of paper. Similarly, people don't buy televisions to see an electronic screen light up in novel patterns. They don't buy books to possess large packets of bound pages.

People buy newspapers, televisions and books to be entertained and informed, usually through storytelling. The media companies that understand this elemental truth and continue to provide quality information and entertainment in new formats will survive and, ultimately, even thrive. The adjustment will be difficult and painful, but it won't kill us. At least not most of us.

So, don't worry about us poor ink-stained wretches. As long as you desire to know what's going on in your community, your state and your world, we'll still report it to you and analyze it for you, and give you a place to share your opinion. And there will still be advertisers willing to pay for the privilege of catching your eye as we do that. We'll keep doing it in print as long as that's a viable option (and it still is, by the way), even as we expand further into digital formats.

In other words, the "news" will live forever, even if the "paper" doesn't.

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