Goodbye To Newspapers?

Eighteen months ago I wrote a piece advising the DMN to take radical steps to save itself.  Jon Fine at Business Week now reports the free-fall is worse than even I predicted. Bottom line:

As crazy as this once sounded, I’m now convinced one or more major American markets will lose their daily newspaper within 18 months.

I hope it isn’t ours.

Comments

  • Enrique De La Fuente

    In a world of Blackberrys, iPhones, Wi-fi everywhere do we need print newspapers anymore?

    We still need the news, but do we need to have it on paper? I am not newspaper analyst, but how much is printing and the costs associated it with?

  • AnonyMouse

    Link here, by the way:
    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_25/b4089077266185.htm

    And I remember reading a long time ago that ad sales basically covered salaries, and what subscribers paid for was for the cost of the actual paper.

  • jrp

    i feel really sad when people doubt the need for print and not just because it’s how i put food on the table

    but i’m afraid the writing is on the wall (which is a really bad pun, i guess)

    our computer, PDA, cell phone addiction only gets stronger. i dare anyone out there to forego your computer, crackberry or iPod for a week.

    you can’t do it and you know you can’t. this addiction is stronger than booze or drugs, man. go ahead and try not to use a computer for a day, nevermind a week, and i guarantee you’ll be cranky as all hell and willing to do anything…ANYTHING…just to check your email or peep the FrontBurner

  • M.G.

    Goodbye to newspapers? Maybe the large daily newspapers who can’t seem to focus on what their market is will face tough times ahead. That being said, newspapers will survive, or maybe I should say, community newspapers will survive.

    While reports of the demise of large market dailies may grab headlines, the fact is those community papers that are doing things right are surviving just fine. The key is to keep it local, local, local (sound familiar?) and therefore keep your paper relevant, relevant, relevant to the readers.

    Gimmick circulation stunts, splatter strategies and other marketing schemes will only produce short-lived bumps in circulation. It may look good on paper, but it is not addressing the overall picture.

    Keep it local and give the readers something they’re not getting elsewhere – and they’ll keep reading the newspaper.

    I’ll be the first to admit that some of the articles that grace the pages of our community newspaper may not be the big attention-grabbing headlines that make the DMN, but Kindergarten graduations, neighborhood hero profiles and community crime is big news to our readers – and therefore it’s news to us.

    (Grabs mug of coffee, steps slowly off soapbox and returns to mounting pile of paperwork on his desk.)

  • I agree with MG, having been in the community newspaper business myself. Even after we went to the Web, our circulation didn’t suffer, mostly because people knew that the paper was the only place they were going to see their kindergartener’s graduation, a police blotter, church news, etc.

    The Internet, PDA’s, etc., may be good for getting quick news, but nothing replaces the thrill (to a little kid especially) of seeing your face in a newspaper.

  • Tom

    The ad contracts with major metro dailies are huge, and they have moved over a bit to the corresponding Web sites, but not in the same frequency. I think the daily printed newspaper will die when major ad clients decide they aren’t getting enough eyeballs for the money they’re spending on dead tree ads. Will that happen within 18 months? Perhaps. But small weeklies and community papers will continue, and that’s why People Newspapers and neighborsgo (among others) will survive the change.

  • Newspapers aren’t the problem per se. There are two main causes for papers like the DMN(AKA People’s Morning News) and other paper’s circulation to go south. One, is the lack of Editorial review over the stories. It seems the only thing most Editors do today is check spelling and punctuation. Case in point, the NYT ran a story a few months ago implying that because John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone he was not eligible to run for President. If they had actually did research that took me 10 minutes to find out they would have found out the following. USC TITLE 8 > CHAPTER 12 > SUBCHAPTER III > Part I > § 1403
    “Any person born in the Republic of Panama on or after February 26, 1904, and whether before or after the effective date of this chapter, whose father or mother or both at the time of the birth of such person was or is a citizen of the United States employed by the Government of the United States or by the Panama Railroad Company, or its successor in title, is declared to be a citizen of the United States.” The second thing that causes papers circulation to go south is when they no longer reflect the views of the people they write about. Case in point, the DMN and its “Conservative” writer, Rod Dreher write editorials naming the Illegal Immigrant as Texan of the Year. There was also the time they supported the New York Times keeping the Pulitzer for Stalinist Walter Duranty. It may be me, but I do not think these view represent the people of the DFW Metroplex.

  • Eh…There are a few that will cancel their subscriptions because they disagree ideologically with the op-ed page of a newspaper. But overall, most people subscribe to a newspaper for news.

    I think if you look at the statistics, the delivery of that news is what is at issue. Some enjoy the relative ease of getting it online versus a paper product. Others prefer thumbing through the paper product for nostalgic reasons, etc.

    I think that sure, part of what you say contributes to the decline in circulation, but it’s not a main cause.

    Newspapers have always felt somewhat protected, I suppose, and were not as a whole quick to anticipate and hop on to the possibilities involving the Internet. Marketing strategies that should’ve been in place years ago to attract and assure advertisers that they could get an ROI on the Web AND the print product just didn’t happen.

    Bottom line, we didn’t get consumers and advertisers to become early adopters of a fully-integrated online/print advertising strategy because WE weren’t early adopters.

  • Tom

    I second Bethany’s response. The stream of people angered about the DMN’s use of NYT stories (and other accusations of conservative or liberal bias) is steady, but not enough to make an impact on the bottom line. When newspapers planted their Internet flags in the mid to late 90s, there was not a logical or well-based plan for revenue. Upper-level manangment’s view of the Web as a “passing fad” didn’t help either.

  • publicnewsense

    Jonathan Carpenter: Regarding this sentence in your pronouncement:

    If they had actually did research that took me 10 minutes to find out they would have found out the following…”
    +++
    I had actually thinked you was a editor at furst.

  • Miss Bethany:

    What makes newspapers “feel protected”? Could it be because the Media elites look down on the people they write about? What about the fact papers like DMN have no Ombudsmen or Media Critics to hold them and their media colleagues accountable. The Washington Post has Howard Kurtz, unlike the DMN. The closest the DMN came was their former critic Ed Bark, who if you know the back story about him was pushed out by the elites at the DMN. Also, read their Editor’s blog if you do not believe me. Does that blog seem like the writings of normal people to you? To me these seem the writings of Elitists who think themselves above what they demand of others.

  • publicnewsense:

    Thanks for the correction. If you actually demanded the same from the media elites we would not have these problems.

  • Jonathan,
    When I say “have always felt,” I mean historically. And yes, in a somewhat-elitist fashion, in a sort of “Sunset Boulevard” bent, if you will.

    This feeling of protection (or invincibility, I guess, might be a better word), is a large part of the mentality behind why newspapers didn’t plan better for the Internet.

    I think, though, the context of my post explained that.

  • jrp

    anyone that refers to the media as elite clearly has no sense whatsoever of the actual media, i.e., the people in the newsroom

    i’ve been a editor/reporter for a decade now (first in an enormous 300-plus-person newsroom in ny and now in a three-person bureau here in big D) and have never met one single person that i would frame as elite. never. not one and that includes the former chmn of Dow Jones & Co., his wife (a UT grad and former publisher of the WSJ), and hundreds of reporters/editors of the WSJ, NYT, NY Post, AP and numerous other publications

    the Hunts, the Perots, the Clintons are elite. we working journalists are working folk, man. dreadfully underpaid, too. just folks who happen to love tracking down stories and using accurate and concise prose to convey the tale to a mass audience

    and i detest bethany’s insinuation that reading news online is easier than reading a newspaper. how hard is it to open your front door, bend down, pick up the paper and see that Iowa is being hit with a 100-year flood??? is it easier to do so online? no, no, a thousand times no.

    yes, the aging, baby-boomer and older editorial staffs of most newspapers missed the boat on the shift to the Interwebs some 15-18 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s over and the new media wins.

    and saying newspapers felt protected is absurd. incompetent management is more like it. it’s that thinking that those in the media are elitist contributes to this misnomer of “feeling protected”

    cannot wait to get to the bar this afternoon and talk this up with dozens of hard-working colleagues, as we’re always laughing at the elite tag

  • M.G.

    Bethany:
    I actually believe you hit the nail on the head. Newspapers were slow to accept the Internet. When we did, it took us awhile to accept that what went on the Internet didn’t actually have to mimic what went on newsprint.

    That being said, I don’t believe the media is any more elitist than any other profession when it comes to someone else telling them how to do their job. If I were to tell my plumber that “poopy” might go down the hole better if they did it my way, I’m sure he’d look down on me before turning to waddle off with his butt crack appropriately showing.

    IJS

  • jrp…

    Whoa. I said some people find it easier. As in, some people – work with me here – run to their car each day, drive to work, and check on the news when they get to their desks. They can peruse news online without notice from their bosses, because their eyes are still glued to the screen. Sitting at your cube at work, thumbing through a newspaper is a good way – unless you work at a newspaper – to earn some ire from your boss.

    Now, that being said, being from the newspaper world, I do go home and read the newspaper on my couch while I unwind with a nice glass of wine.

    Calm down, buddy. I wasn’t referring to those of us in the trenches. I was referring to management. Again, context. Clearly, those of us in the newsroom can do very little decision making in regards to how our respective publications embrace the Internet. So clearly, as Tom correctly surmised, I was talking about management – not the rank and file.

  • jrp

    Cool, man, that elite tag just really gets my ire up. My apologies. I’ll even use uppercase and punctuation here for you.

    I’m just on a mission to get everyone to slow the eff down, man. Turn the TV off, turn the computer off, put the PDA down, stop commenting incessantly on message boards etc. But, as you can guess (and see), I need to take some of my own advice.
    I also have written well over 100 inches of copy once again this week and am in desperate need of some alcohol. Check that. Lots of alcohol.

    So, Bethany, I hear ya and i’ll be at the Belmont around 6:30 or so. Come by and say hi. I’ll be the tallest cat there with a white russian firmly implanted in my left hand all night long…

  • jrp:
    It was wrong of me to generalize. You probably are no elitist. However, can you explain why so many papers and magazines have no media critics or ombudsmen? The Washington Post does. Our paper does not! It seems like the lack of people who hold their colleagues in the media accountable helps promote the image of a media elite. If not, can you explain the problems I have alluded to earlier? Also, can you explain why the NYT runs a good story about McCain’s ties to Lobbyists yet screws it up royally by implying he was sleeping with one of them. Few criticized them. How about the New Republic running the fictitous ramblings of one Scott Beauchamp as if they where the Gospel truth. No one holds them accountable for this. It is these facts plus the DMN getting rid of its media critic Ed Bark that make people’s point about the media being run by a Liberal elite.

  • Jonathan,
    I think that jrp, MG and Tom can probably tell you the same thing I’m about to tell you: For every five people that write a newspaper to complain that it is liberally slanted, there are five that complain it favors conservatives.

  • M.G.

    Amen sister.

  • glenn hunter

    JRP: When Jonathan Carpenter refers to elites, I think he’s referring to an unspoken set of elitist values that are indeed held by the media movers and shakers–including, yes, the “working folk” in the trenches. While very few would cop to it, it’s a ’60s-throwback, baby-boomer world-view that you could sum up like this: Government action good; greedy businesspeople bad; guns bad; abortion not good, but not really that bad; religious people scary, and on and on. I mean, look at all the polls showing 80% or 90% of newspeople are Democrats. This mentality affects the stories that are chosen and the way they’re written, and it’s part of the reason readers are leaving.

  • Tha is probably true Bethany. However, where is the Ombudsmen or Media Critic holding their colleagues accountable? The Washington Post has one. Do you think the DMN is above such things? If someone was fulfilling that role that Howard Kurtz does so well, we might not have these problems I mention.

  • Amen to that Brother Hunter!!

  • Steve

    jrp – what is the difference between reading the news on a pda/computer and reading it in print? The print paper is merely a method to get said news in front of the person wanting it. Is a pda/computer not just another method?

    This kind of thinking is typical of a generation that is still emotionally tied to something they grew up with. It’s exactly the same as saying: “All the people using electric freezers need to slow the eff down.” Just because we made it easier and more convenient to store ice/food doesn’t mean we were wrong to accept it.

    As a matter of fact, I am from the newspaper business myself. I can tell you there have been many meetings where we discussed the possibility of moving the content to digital editions or cds, but the advertisers weren’t having any part of it.

    There are only two reasons the newspaper exists as it does:

    1) Newspapers haven’t figured out a way to get advertisers excited about moving all their dollars to web (mostly because advertisers can track their ads online and they know they don’t have to spend as much in print…..where ads can’t be effectively tracked)

    2) The generation that still subscribes hasn’t gotten past it’s fear of reading the newspaper online (computer or pda). That time is coming.

  • Tom

    @Jonathan: The DMN Editorial Board, which I would hardly describe as “elite,” is made up of equal parts conservative and liberal members. It’s also well-repesented in respect to age, gender and race. You can learn more about them here: http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorialboard.html (Click on the names for their bios).
    And they do receive as many letters about being too far left as they do too far right. That’s the sign of a good op-ed page.

  • Tom, you are correct in saying the DMN Board is a model of Racial and Gender Diversity. The same can not be said for Ideological diversity. Case in point, read their glowing portrayals of Barack Obama. It is so bad that I think if Obama had a meltdown in the tradition of Howard Dean, they would think it was the best thing since sliced bread. Also, there was the time their “Conservative” Rod Dreher wrote the editorial naming the Illegal Alien as Texan of the Year. It is this plus supporting the NYT keeping the Pulitizer of a man who was writing propoganda for Joseph Stalin that show their Editorial Board is anything but Ideologically diverse.

  • Steve:

    Because your kid can’t clip out his or her honor roll/Eagle Scout project photo/picture of being crowned Homecoming Queen, etc., from a PDA without significant damage to the device.

  • M.G.

    Glenn:
    I humbly submit that you likely are wiser, older and richer than I. That’s why I also know that you know that polls can be skewed with which ever way the wind is blowing. If you want a poll to show that all media are Democrats, poll a bunch of Democrats. Vice versa if you’re looking for the other result.

    Other than that, you rock!

  • Tom

    @Jonathan: In the interest of full disclosure, I was the dallasnews.com liason for the Texan of the Year process for the past three years. The final selection does not come about without much debate and derision. The “disclaimer” in the Texan of the Year section details the process well. There are members whose personal views stray far from the Board’s stance on immigration and capital punishment. Just because the Board agrees to something doesn’t mean all of its members share that opinion.

  • Jay

    Jonathan Carpenter wrote:

    “…where is the Ombudsmen or Media Critic holding their colleagues accountable?”

    I think this thread is full of them. Blog is the new black.

  • jrp

    Great stuff, all, I truly appreciate this discussion, and will pick it up with friends at the Belmont.

    First, man, I’m 36 years old. My parents are baby boomers. I’m Gen X through and through. and I’m sorry, Glenn, but I don’t prescribe to any of those notions. I’m a red-headed irish catholic yankee, but I’m for gun ownership and a women’s right to choose. I could go on and one there, but won’t. While my ilk may be outnumbered in the newsroom, I know I’m not alone. And my generation will soon be taking over said newsroom and I hope to lead the charge in changing that dynamic you speak off.

    I love reading a newspaper with my coffee each and every morning because I can pick and choose what my eyes view at any given time, skimming from hede to hede to graph to ad to a graph at the bottom a story that had a horrific lede that I stopped reading…

    All the while eating my Fruit Loops, drinking my coffee, talking to my wife, petting the dog, and in about a month, tending to my as-yet-unhatched son.

    Try doing that while reading the news on your crackberry.

    As for the lack of Ombudsman and or Media Critic, I’m with you, Jonathan. Where are they? I don’t really know…have some lame theories: too expensive; E-in-C and ME don’t like being called out; too many errors so pointing them out would make paper look bad.

    OK, I’ll stop now. Thanks again and c’yous next week.

  • Tom

    Until last month, the Star-Telegram has a reader representative, whose duties were the same as an ombusdman. The person in that position was laid off and the job was eliminated. I think the cuts and buyouts at newspapers have made that role a rarity. I think it would serve the DMN well to have one, and I made that opinion known more than once in my seven years there.

  • Take it as a sure sign that I’m still working off the Vicodin from last night’s migraine and chose to stay in tonight, but I wrote a more lengthy response to all of this, but mercifully didn’t post it here, but instead posted it here:
    http://eleventybillionthblog.blogspot.com/2008/06/continuing-conversation-here-so-i-dont.html

  • Ana

    I agree, newspapers might be doomed. They are messy, colors are dull, you want to get rid of them the second you’ve read through them, you only buy them for the information inside; – so getting the same content on your notebook or Blackberry is much cleaner, and thus makes more sense.

    Good news is, I don’t think magazines are in any danger. It’s a pleasure just holding a new glossy thick magazine in my hands, and always carrying a mag or two in a purse. Just-out-of-print smell is intoxicating. (and where else can you put a rub-and-sniff ad for a new perfume?) They look beautiful on the coffee table. I skip all online ads, but I might buy a magazine just for the ads and editorials (which are ads-in-disguise).

    Even business magazines, despite disturbing lack of fashion photoshoots, are more practical than electronic papers: you can read them in the gym, you can highlight and circle things you are interested in, you can fold the corners, or tear out whole pages. You can even solve crossword puzzles without being tempted to look up the word in Wikipedia.

    My point is, magazines are way more than their content, my prediction is good ones are here to stay for decades.

  • Not Me

    And don’t forget, M.G., who else will regurgitate the bones the local D.A. throws your way no questions asked?