Andrew Keen: The Christian Science Monitor departs the corporeal world

New Media
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Stop the press, it’s finally happened. A national American newspaper, with an illustrious 100-year publishing |history and seven Pulitzer prizes, has gone totally digital. Last week, the Boston-based The Christian Science Monitor announced its decision to shift its daily news business entirely on to the internet. In April of next year, The Christian Science Monitor, a newspaper begun in 1908, will stop printing its newspaper and will, instead, invest all its daily news resources into its enhanced, advertising supported website.

The 100-year-old paper is merely catching up to early 21st-century reality. In 1908, when Christian Scientist Mary Baker Eddy first published her paper in order to keep her readers “abreast of the times”, technology limited publishers to distributing their product in the form of a physical daily newspaper. A hundred years later, the internet publishing platform, with its instant global reach and shrinking technology costs, has turned the news business upside down. In today’s online world of instant publishing, where news junkies are hooked on up-to-the-minute information and commentary, a daily newspaper, printed or otherwise, is quickly becoming both a cultural and economic anachronism.

The Christian Science Monitor might be the first national American newspaper to acknowledge this reality, |but it won’t be the last to make the great digital leap forward. While |The Monitor’s charitable status and its role as a domestic purveyor of overseas news makes the newspaper different from any other American daily, the writing is now on the screen for the rest of the industry. Just last week, for example, the day before The Christian Science Monitor chucked its bombshell, the Los Angeles Times announced another 75 editorial redundancies, while the US Audit Bureau of Circulation revealed that in the first six months of 2008, sales of the top 500 American newspapers were down almost 5 per cent. Even the grand old lady herself, The New York Times, is struggling, with its advertising revenue down 13 per cent and its classifieds down a catastrophic 28 per cent in September.

Ironically, while our always-on culture is killing the daily newspaper, it isn’t having the same devastating impact on weekly news magazines. Indeed, at the same time that The Christian Science Monitor put out its obituary notice on its daily edition, it announced the birth of a physical weekly news magazine, which it intends to publish at the weekends. Might, then, the more contemplative weekly magazine be replacing the daily newspaper as the most effective vehicle for keeping us truly “abreast of the times”?

Andrew Keen is the author of The Cult of the Amateur