I always get fired up when I get in debates regarding the implications of newspapers going away. I don’t understand people who believe that the downfall of the newspaper will mean the downfall of journalism. The newspaper is merely an information distribution technology that is being replaced by a superior one called digital distribution. As with any disruptive shift in technology, there will be winners, losers and new companies leading the way as we move on.
However, instead of discussing and analyzing the positions on both sides of the argument I wanted to focus this post on an issue that doesn’t get brought up enough in the newspaper debate – the green issue.
The green issue is all too often absent from the debate. In my opinion, it’s inexcusable to support newspapers given the negative effect that their production and distribution has on our environment. Each day millions of newspapers are produced and then disposed of the same day. In 2009, I’m surprised that more people aren’t outraged at this blatant abuse of our planet. While many newspapers are recycled, it still requires a fair amount of energy to recycle them. In addition, there are the paper mills which give off pollution as well as the vast infrastructure of trucks that spew off toxins as they deliver the stacks of newspapers every single day.
While my position’s validity may seem obvious, some argue that print newspapers and magazines can actually be better for the environment than reading them online. While this may seem like a crazy notion, Wired’s Editor in Chief Chris Anderson offered an interesting viewpoint in a blog post covering this issue:
Now compare that with our website. The carbon cost of creating content is the same as the magazine (people in a building with computers and lights on), and the carbon cost of running our webservers 24/7, plus the carbon cost of more than 100 million minutes of time a month on all of the computers used to read those pages, along with their share of the Internet infrastructure in-between, is at least as much as the cost of running the magazine’s printing plants once a month.
Anderson went on to conclude that “dead-tree magazines have a smaller net carbon footprint than web media.” While I’m not in the position to argue his facts as it would require a fair bit more research, it is conceivable for a monthly magazine. However, I don’t think the same argument could be made for daily newspapers and I would question any study that attempted to make it.
I think that without a doubt newspapers are worse for our environment than their digital counterparts. I urge you to bring up this point when debating the pros and cons of the newspaper going away. In my opinion, there is no reason to support an inferior technology that also represents a big environmental issue. If you still support newspapers by subscribing to them, at what cost does it come?
I would love to hear your opinion on this issue – please add your thoughts in the comments below.