Utne Blogs > Media

What Is a Newspaper For? Really?

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Media, newspapers, news, Clay Shirky,

Cutting the Newspaper

When everything but the news is stripped out of a newspaper, publications tend to look a lot thinner. Inspired by a blog post by Clay Shirky, I decided to perform a “news biopsy” of the today’s issue of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I wanted to separate the news from everything else in there.

I began by buying two copies of the newspaper, cutting them up, and separating the articles. One copy was for the odd-numbered pages, the other was for the evens. I then separated the articles into three categories: “news,” “advertisements,” and “other.” The “other” consisted of the opinion columns, sports, weather, comics, anything that was neither an ad nor reported news.

Here were the results:

News Ads and Other


News: 3.9 oz
Ads: 4.9 oz
Other: 7.3 oz

I then took the news pile and separated that into two categories: “created” and “acquired” news. The created news was anything with a byline from the Star Tribune. The acquired news consisted of articles sourced from the New York Times, the Associated Press, or anything outside of the Star Tribune.

Here were the results:

Created V. Acquired

Acquired: 1.5 oz
Created: 2.3 oz

The paper fared better than the Columbia Daily Tribune, the paper tested by Shirky, where two-thirds of the news was acquired and only one-third was created. Still, out of more than 16 ounces of newspaper, just 2.3 were news created by the Star Tribune. The rest, according to Shirky:

It’s not news, and it’s not hard to do, and it’s not hard to replace. No one surveying the changes the internet is bringing to the newspaper business is saying “My God, who will tell me about Big 12 football! Where will I find a recipe for spicy chicken wings!”

Source: Clay Shirky