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Friday, October 27, 2006

Bad News, Papers, Bad...

It may seem odd for a kid, who grew up with technology and uses it to solicit his opinions to wax nostalgic over newspapers. But a bad news cycle for newspapers has been, well, in the news.

The Boston Globe, New England’s largest newspaper is suffering from poor circulation. Its value is estimated to be half what the New York Times Co. paid in ‘93. In addition, this coincides with contract negotiations with the Boston Newspaper Guild. Some Bostonians, including retired GE CEO Jack Welch have offered to buy the Globe; the Times, right now, isn’t biting.

In Pennsylvania, the state’s largest dailies are in trouble. The Philadelphia Media Holdings Company, which purchased the
Inquirer and Daily News from McClatchy following their acquisition of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, announced more layoffs would to make debt payments. This is after Knight-Ridder’s painful round of cuts prior to its sale. In Pittsburgh the Post-Gazette announced last month that it had not posted any profit since ‘93.

Trouble brews at the
Lost Angeles Times where editors’ are staging a rebellion, egged on by parent company Tribune‘s demand for cuts. Tribune may be torn apart because of it. This chaos is led, in part, by the dissatisfaction of the fabled Chandler family, former LA Times owners, who are now Tribune’s largest shareholders. The Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant, also owned by Tribune, and have local bidders interested in them.

So what is troubling America’s newspapers? Well, I’m no Wall Street analyst, but among its problems are shareholders’ demand for profit. However, as evidenced by the Post-Gazette and Inquirer/Daily News, local control does not mean automatic success. In the Inquirer/Daily News’s defense, they took on a heavy debt load and have not had a chance put their plans in gear yet. For their sake, I hope there is time to reverse this backslide.

Inevitably, the blame for the decline of newspapers is the Internet, despite newspapers’ sizable presence on it. Personally, I disagree. Sure, the internet allows information, such as my opinions, available faster and to everyone. But by definition, the papers would be obsolete in the face of the Internet. However, print business remains profitable.

I fear the culprit is two fold, namely ad revenue, and circulation. If circulation goes up then the paper’s value to advertisers goes up. Recent retail mergers have hurt, too though. The Internet has weakened circulation, but the blame should be divided between readers and publishers. The papers suck at advertising themselves. The Globe features a billboard facing the Mass Pike billing itself, as I’d not dispute, the “Pulse of Boston.” But there is no picture of a paper. Stupid as it sounds, if somebody saw an actual paper they might want to buy a paper, not just know about it. There are many ways in which papers could increase their visibility and circulation/readership.

Readers, however, also need to see the benefit of having a “hard copy.” I read a half-dozen or so dailies from the Northeast/Midwest on the Internet. Personally, I’d like to read the hard copies but that‘s not feesible. However, I know, having compared their websites to hard copies, I miss a lot of interesting and informative stories. My dad subscribes to the Republican and could just as easily read the paper online, but benefits by at least skimming all the stories. The Internet sites are good when you’re away from home, reading a paper far, far away, or for their extra features.

So I end this entry with a plea to readers and a warning to publishers. To the readers, do not dismiss the old-fashioned papers as something that takes too much time. You will never be disappointed, unless it’s a slow news day, which would cross over the Internet too. To the publishers/owners, never forget what you are there for. Yes, you are there to make money, but also to inform. Its your responsibility to get the public listening, as well. Perhaps these hard times are a penance for your failure to inform the public during the Iraq run-up. Unfortunately, we the public will suffer most, if you fail.

2 comments:

jayeff53@gmail.com said...

Wake up Mr. WMP & I. Newspapers are going the way of the railroads. They have been displaced by newer technology. Additionally, the average American citizen is lazy and does not want to take the time to read. I don't think it is the Internet alone that has knocked out the papers. I think TV delivered the one,two blow and the Internet just delivered the knockout punch. Newspapers will continue to limp along just like the railroads. But they will never know the heyday they once enjoyed. Understand? - AwebServer

Matt S. said...

In response to "AwebServer," yes it is true that newspapers have entered a railroad-esque environment, but like the railroad they are not dead. But rail, even in this country and despite all efforts by Reagen and Pres. Bush, is staging a meek, but existent comeback. Newspapers, too, have this potential. They will never reclaim their former status, but they do not have to give up under the weight of opposition either. For the record, public policy also contributed to the downfall of rail as it never died, in the same way in Europe, which embraced rail.

As a sidebar, thank you for the debate.