Don't Give Up the Flagship

By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, October 29, 2006

Amid all the bad news about the future of newspapers -- and there is plenty -- a good news story quietly has been building: Online newspaper revenue is growing.

For those of you who are faithful readers of the ink-on-paper versions of the news (and those of us employed by the companies who produce them), this is a good thing.

Yes, it's true that consumers are moving from newspapers to newspaper Web sites (and beyond) for their daily fix of current events and information for living -- movie listings, commuter help, classifieds. And there's no sign that that trend will change anytime soon. After all, high-speed Internet connections in our homes, at the corner coffee shop and even on our cellphones are only getting better -- making the online consumption of news and information that much easier.

Here's why this is important for those of us who don't want to stop reading (or, in my case, writing) in-depth, analytical news pieces: A significant number of the stories you read on the Web are created by the staff members at the dead-tree versions of newspapers.

That makes for an urgent race in the newspaper business as the "print" side of the business tries to maintain its revenue to support its staff while the "Web" side of the business tries to bring in enough money to support and build its own staff.

For instance, the good news: In its recent quarterly earnings, the New York Times Co. said that overall company revenue was down but that revenue from the company's online divisions, such as the Times' Web site, was up. The problem: Online revenue was only about 9 percent of the company's total revenue pie. If the Times' Web site -- or any newspaper Web site -- were forced to hire a staff and fill its pages with only the revenue it made, it would look a lot like the Web site your daughter made for a class project. Except not as impressive.

For you guys, the news consumers, the news actually is very good: Everyone is pouring money into Web news and information. You have more choices now than ever before, and that will only increase in coming years.

Exotic Science

Those guys at Popular Science will do anything to get you to read about science. (And, clearly, I'll do anything to get you to read to the end of this column.)

They're taking what they know best and applying it to what you seem to love most: amateur videos on the Web that feature things that shouldn't amuse us but do -- people falling, stuff blowing up, things crashing into each other.

In a new blog called the Breakdown, the physics experts over at PopSci will analyze a mishap in an online video.

They'll tell us all about how angular momentums, pivot points, gravitational pulls and external forces play into the slips and falls and crashes.

What better way to spark some interest in the blog than showcasing a (fully-clothed) young woman attempting a clumsy pole dance in a nightclub. She grabs the pole in her right hand and tries to spin -- flinging herself from the stage.

The PopSci folks apply Newtonian physics to the dancer (legal in some states) and compare her to a figure skater who pulls her arms in, speeding her rotation out of control.

"A hand rotating away from the pole cannot continue to hold onto the pole, and without that grip, our dancer loses her balance in a most sudden and undignified fashion. Lesson learned: Newton can still represent," the blogger wrote.

But the people who viewed the clip and offered their comments challenged the experts, asking whether her high heels or the likelihood that she was toasted factored into the fall.

Suddenly, science class is a discussion again.

As for Popular Science, the Breakdown blog may be on to something if the goal is to generate some interest in the laws of physics -- even if it means turning a science lecture into "America's Funniest Home Videos."

Check out the blog at .

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