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Since the 1990s and the rise of the Internet, traditional newspapers have struggled to sustain themselves in the face of an explosion of online news; it’s no secret that the current recession has only made things worse. Newspapers across the country, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News, have filed for bankruptcy. Even college papers like The Hoya have felt the pressure: On Monday, The Heights, Boston College’s newspaper of record, announced it would reduce its size from 28 to 20 pages as a result of falling advertisement sales.

Newspapers are losing traditional sources of revenue – ads and subscriptions – to the Internet. According to Pew Research, advertising revenue has fallen 23 percent in the last two years. Meanwhile, readers are now more likely to browse networking Web sites than read the newspaper classifieds. Most importantly, print newspaper sales are dropping. Since 2007, U.S. online news readership has increased by 19 percent. The days of the traditional newspaper, it seems, are numbered.

The loss of print journalism would be tragic. Newspapers remain the most reliable sources of journalism and regional news. Though the blogosphere and independent news sites have given readers convenient ways of finding news, the Web has not yet matched the depth and range of traditional print publications.

The problem isn’t lack of demand for quality – it’s the business model. Readers enjoy free online access to The New York Times and The Washington Post, but online ad revenue does not make up for drops in subscriptions and print ads. As The Atlantic points out, one million print subscribers are far more profitable than 20 million readers online. This, compounded by declines in print advertising, makes the current approach unworkable.

Charging for Web access hasn’t really worked, either – fees reduce online readership, and stories published on pay-only sites inevitably spread to blogs and other free sites.

To survive, papers will need to embrace a leaner, less staff-intensive model. They must reconsider what can distinguish print from online journalism and expand streams of online revenue (like diversifying content, expanding ads and offering new services to readers). Finally, they must emulate their online-only counterparts: by adopting more straightforward styles or emphasizing editorial and feature journalism, for instance.

Burdened by a punishing recession and online competitors, newspapers from The New York Times to The Hoya face a daunting challenge. The one thing for traditional papers to remember? Nothing is sacred. If the book on print journalism must be rewritten for newspapers to survive, so be it.

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