They’d seen his face before / Nobody was really sure if he was from the house of lords

Over at The Atlantic, Michael Hirschorn is think­ing out loud about a pos­si­ble world with­out The New York Times, in its print­ed form.

The Times, as has been fair­ly well doc­u­ment­ed, is both on decline as a print­ed news­pa­per (although it’s boom­ing online), and in some finan­cial trou­ble:

But what if the old media dies much more quick­ly? What if a hur­ri­cane comes along and oblit­er­ates the dunes entire­ly? Specif­i­cal­ly, what if The New York Times goes out of business—like, this May?

It’s cer­tain­ly plau­si­ble. Earn­ings reports released by the New York Times Com­pa­ny in Octo­ber indi­cate that dras­tic mea­sures will have to be tak­en over the next five months or the paper will default on some $400million in debt. With more than $1billion in debt already on the books, only $46million in cash reserves as of Octo­ber, and no clear way to tap into the cap­i­tal mar­kets (the company’s debt was recent­ly reduced to junk sta­tus), the paper’s future doesn’t look good.

As part of our analy­sis of our uses of cash, we are eval­u­at­ing future financ­ing arrange­ments,” the Times Com­pa­ny announced bland­ly in Octo­ber, refer­ring to the crunch it will face in May. “Based on the con­ver­sa­tions we have had with lenders, we expect that we will be able to man­age our debt and cred­it oblig­a­tions as they mature.” This prompt­ed Hen­ry Blod­get, whose Web site, Sil­i­con Alley Insid­er, has offered the smartest ongo­ing analy­sis of the company’s tra­vails, to write: “‘We expect that we will be able to man­age’? Trans­la­tion: There’s a pos­si­bil­i­ty that we won’t be able to man­age.”

Does this come as a sur­prise? No, I guess not. I nev­er buy a news­pa­per now. Okay, I bought a Sun­day Star Times back in Auck­land, but to be hon­est I didn’t read it. I left it unopened some­where.

I gen­er­al­ly get my news and analy­sis from the clos­est thing I have to a dai­ly, my dozens of RSS feeds, and a mix of Google Alerts, and fol­low­ing link trails that take me places I often don’t expect to get to, thus, in a very web 2.0, or what­ev­er it’s become now, way.

The world is chang­ing. Yes it’s a glib state­ment that doesn’t need say­ing but it always hits me how fast it’s chang­ing when I hop on a plane and get off in a, shall we say, less emerg­ing nation than Indone­sia. And when I say Indone­sia, I mean the coun­try out­side cen­tral Jakar­ta, which is, for all pur­pos­es, a coun­try in itself with a rela­tion­ship a lit­tle like the one NYC has with Ida­ho.

In this emerg­ing nation I’m always a lit­tle grate­ful when tech­no­log­i­cal or IT advances hit. I was dri­ving down the road a week or five back and I saw a bill­board for a GPS unit with Bali on it.

Oh, they work here now? was my imme­di­ate thought, before bring­ing myself back to ground with the real­i­sa­tion that it would like­ly not work cor­rect­ly (and the provider would just smile when I com­plained). This is, after all, a place where, unless you pay big mon­ey, beyond the bud­gets of all but the wealth­i­est, your inter­net is slow (often to the point of unus­able), very patchy and has sus­pect cov­er­age. It’s a land where this is con­trolled by a cou­ple of monop­o­lies designed to enrich the pow­er elite. It’s a land where, as Brigid said, most peo­ple don’t even have an address in nor­mal terms, let alone an IP address; it’s a land where almost nobody knows how to read a map. The biggest news­pa­per in the land, the local equiv­a­lent of the NYT, Kom­pas is depress­ing­ly thin every day and it’s Eng­lish lan­guage equiv­a­lent, The Jakar­ta Post has spent the last week on it’s site, pro­mot­ing a huge change on it’s way today. I expect­ed a new site, but no, it’s lit­tle more than a slight redesign of their, also thin, print edi­tion.

The JPs tech pages are often full of devices that won’t work in Indone­sia. Or for banks whose web sites were tossed togeth­er a decade ago and bare­ly work.

And when I leave Indone­sia (and I do it a lot) I’m depressed by how far and how fast the rest of the world is mov­ing. We are at the very begin­ning of a rev­o­lu­tion as big as the wheel and this rev­o­lu­tion is gain­ing momen­tum.

But when I say we, I’m wip­ing out half the world because this rev­o­lu­tion is leav­ing them behind faster than any­one to date had imag­ined. Whilst the NYT pon­ders a move to dig­i­tal because the eco­nom­ics and the band­width required to pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive dig­i­tal news expe­ri­ence have col­lid­ed, an Indone­sian news­pa­per pon­ders it’s type­face (and like­ly writes half the sto­ries on typewriters..true).

And the print ver­sion of most west­ern media is increas­ing­ly redun­dant. Even on a bus or a train:

In this sce­nario, nytimes.com would begin to resem­ble a big­ger, bet­ter, and less par­ti­san ver­sion of the Huff­in­g­ton Post, which, until some­one smarter or more deep-pock­et­ed comes along, is the pro­to­type for the future of jour­nal­ism

Half the stuff on the HP sim­ply won’t load cor­rect­ly here in click and wait land.

So where does that leave the world beyond the devel­oped nations? I dun­no, and I can only real­ly speak for Indone­sia but it’s a pret­ty scary future as much of the rest of the world leaps eager­ly into the next stra­ta of a world where every­thing is chang­ing, a world which relies on band­width, data­bas­es, inter­ac­tive com­merce and com­mu­ni­ca­tion at every lev­el and everywhere….a world which has just fought it’s first US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion online and won’t let you enter the USA unless you go onto a web site before. It’s a place where well over half of all pur­chas­es last Xmas were online and ter­tiary edu­ca­tion is increas­ing­ly reliant on fast net­works for infor­ma­tion and assess­ment. Most Indone­sians don’t even have a bank account.

It’s a mas­sive and quick­ly grow­ing divide which I real­ly doubt the lead­ers in this coun­try have begun to come to terms with or have any real con­cept of. It was, after all, only a cou­ple of years back when the Indone­sian Tech­nol­o­gy Min­is­ter thought aloud that the nation would ben­e­fit from a few months unhooked from the net..’so peo­ple would go back to work’.

Then again, maybe the pow­er will go off and they’ll be smil­ing in Medan.

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