In 1993, He Predicted Newspaper Classifieds Would Die

I’m reading early morning reports about the death of newspapers. First I popped onto a column by Jeff Jarvis, who is known for savaging former employers like the now bankrupt Tribune company. Jarvis was a founding editor of the fattest magazine on the newsrack: Entertainment Weekly, which itself is struggling and might well end up as a big fat website.

He states what many know now is the obvious….that the death of many newspapers is inevitable and well earned. Then he links to a post I’d read earlier on BoingBoing by Clay Shirky, with many of the same conclusions…but he wrote this back in 1993!

Yes before there was Google, Facebook or even eBay, there was a guy who predicted that newspapers would prove to be unable to make it in 2008. Classifieds, he predicted, were to be the first to go. Since it’s all local, all about how close those baby clothes or that car is, that really predicts people’s interest.

Shirky suggested in 1993 that a national website (read: Craig’s List) would post the ads and that sorting them geographically would be the decider to their relevance. Reading all of these dire pundits makes me think about my own local newspapers. The reporters are great and give us lots of free coverage; I submit articles and hope fervantly that they’ll show up in print, and in the cafe each one is gobbled up multiple times by eager readers.

But their sales reps have never ever sold us anything online. And they have really good websites! None of them have even bothered to try to sell the more relevant and interesting parts of the newspaper–their websites–they only try to sell us the same tired group or theme ads. So do they deserve to die? Well, no of course not. But if they do die, people like Jarvis won’t be shaking his head over the mystery of it all.