Newspapers are failing, and fast. So
what does it matter? The Internet and all its newsy blogs are going like gangbusters. Well, yes. But a strong, stable nation
requires a robust press to inform its electorate and monitor its government.
On that count, the weakening of a legitimate newspaper industry has broad implications for everyone who cares about freedom.
Fall 2008 was a tough time for Miami Herald Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal.
Months earlier, the newspaper had announced widespread layoffs to purge 250 full-time jobs across the company, or 17 percent of its workforce. It was the most recent bitter pill in a string of job reductions that had shrunk the Herald’s newsroom from about 400 editorial staffers a few years ago to just 275.
To stanch the bleeding from hemorrhaging advertising revenues, Herald owner McClatchy Co. considered everything from leasing parts of the newspaper’s 50,000-square-foot headquarters to selling the publication outright. But even with all the bad news pummeling the Herald like a devastating hurricane, Gyllenhaal was optimistic that the staff wouldn’t shrivel any more, and the paper could continue delivering the kind of reporting that has won 19 Pulitzer Prizes over the publication’s life, including a 2007 honor for reporting on waste, favoritism, and lack of oversight at Miami’s housing agency.
“I just don’t see [more layoffs] happening,” Gyllenhaal told the New Times Broward-Palm Beach weekly newspaper/Web site shortly after the cuts. “It’s been a difficult period, but everybody in the newsroom knows what we need to do. Whether it’s a literal hurricane or a figurative one, this is a newsroom that is taking it on and handling it.”
But not for long. Within months, the unthinkable happened.
On March 11, Herald publisher David Landsberg issued a memo announcing the company’s plans to reduce its workforce by another 19 percent, cutting staffers and unfilled positions to the tune of 205 jobs. Those left behind would see their salaries cut as much as 10 percent after taking a week’s unpaid leave to achieve further savings.
Readers would find a newspaper trimmed by an inch in width, and the newspaper’s International Edition — home for the Herald’s once-leading coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean — eliminated.
Given Gyllenhaal’s optimism just five months earlier, the question nags, What happened?
The editor’s answer encapsulates the troubles facing the country’s newspapers in a weary tone: It’s the economy, stupid.
“When people came back [from Christmas vacations], they realized what hit the economy,” Gyllenhaal says. “There were problems with the car companies, problems with the banks; money’s not moving; the sense of confidence in the economy continuing to decline. It all combined for a powerful wallop against business, especially newspapers.”
And the Herald was not alone. The same forces that were battering it and other South Florida papers were wreaking havoc in newsrooms throughout the country.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism summed it up best in an exhaustive report on the state of the news media in 2008 noting that newspapers “entered 2009 in something perilously close to free-fall.”
Consider the numbers: Newspaper advertising revenue dropped 23 percent from 2006 to 2008, sinking to $38 billion from $49.5 billion. By early 2009, one of every five journalists who had worked for newspapers in 2001 was gone.
Newspaper giant Gannett Co., owner of USA Today and 84 other newspapers nationwide, cut more than 8,300 positions during the past two years alone.
In the last remaining cities with two newspapers — often preserved by special contracts called joint operating agreements — the tanking economy was killing the secondary papers. Some of the casualties: Denver’s 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News folded in February, falling before larger rival the Denver Post. Seattle’s Post-Intelligencer went online-only in March, shrinking from a staff of 167 journalists to about 20. The Tucson Citizen in Arizona was publishing day to day, delaying plans to close the newspaper on March 21 while pursuing sale talks.
Since December, the Tribune Co., publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Baltimore Sun, among other newspapers; the Journal Register Co., owner of Minneapolis Star-Tribune; and Philadelphia Newspapers L.L.C., publishers of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, have filed for bankruptcy. In April, the 137-year-old Boston Globe was spared by its parent, The New York Times Co., only after 11th-hour negotiations resulted in union agreements to slash wages. The Times had reported that it would shutter the Boston daily if workers didn’t accept $20 million in cuts.
And rumors percolate that even publications without major competition, such as the New Haven Register in Connecticut and the San Francisco Chronicle, which The New York Times said lost $1 million a week in 2008, also might close.
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Long before newspapers became the red-headed stepchildren of modern media, they — and the people who made them — were part of the fabric of American life. Newspaper reporters and editors were seen as hard-boiled, tough-talking, hard-drinking champions of the little guy who always knew that the truth was the heart of a good story. They were part scribe, part gumshoe and, in at least one case, part bullet-proof superhero. As a result, papers show up in countless pop-culture references from books to movies to television to comic strips. Here are some America’s more famous ink-stained wretches:
SUPERMAN 1932 to present
Every reporter knows it takes a strong dichotomy to make deadline in the big city. Clark Kent handled the mild-mannered, routine journalism stuff. The guy in blue tights handled the rest — including saving the girl over and over again. It’s hard to imagine now that the next generation of Superman comic fans might never have seen anything like the Daily Planet, or understand why Editor Perry White is always so incensed.
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN 1976
“I’ll keep you in the right direction if I can. Just follow the money.” With those words Hal Holbrooke’s Deep Throat sent Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (played by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford) in pursuit of the biggest news story of a generation, the Watergate scandal that took down the administration of President Richard M. Nixon.
LOU GRANT 1977 to 1982
In this Mary Tyler Moore Show spinoff, Ed Asner made Los Angeles Tribune editor Lou Grant the poster child for newsroom anger management.
BRENDA STARR 1940 to present
Known for fashion sense and steamy romances, Brenda Starr was, above all else, an aggressive newspaper reporter — and an early role model for women in media.
ABSENCE OF MALICE 1981
Paul Newman and Sally Field test the limits of journalism ethics in this film about the son of a Mafia kingpin wrongly accused of murder. Wilford Brimley steals the show as a gruff DOJ lawyer.
THE FRONT PAGE 1974
The third of four adaptations of a 1928 stage play, this movie highlights the dark comedy inherent in the wacky, fast paced world of hard-news reporting.
Can Newspapers Be Replaced?
For devoted fans of newspapers and those who depend on the information print reporters generate, these times may feel like Armageddon. Each day brings fresh news of a print outlet in serious financial trouble; experts know that the detailed journalism created by newspapers funds a vast, global news pipeline that includes TV stations, Web sites, blogs, radio shows, and more.
If newspapers disappear, who will look into how school boards and city councils spend the public’s money? Can an online staff of 20 spare the resources to check on restaurants the health department cites as unsanitary? What about the harassment complaints people file against police?
More than 70 percent of 351 editors and publishers who responded to an Associated Press Managing Editors survey lamented that shrinking news staffs undercut their ability to inform the public. Still, 72 percent also said they are staying in the industry because they believe in “the mission of journalism.”
At the same time, 65 percent said they had laid off workers in the past year to cope with the hard times, while 30 percent said they had lowered wages. Nearly 68 percent pointed to staffing shortages as the chief impediment to change; 57 percent said they didn’t have enough money to “innovate.”
Still, even as the news keeps getting worse, some experts caution against carving a tombstone for the entire newspaper industry just yet.
“I don’t know if this is the bottom . . . [but] the death of newspapers is not imminent and certain things can come back,” says Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “With all these troubles, 48 million copies of newspapers are sold every day, making $38 billion in revenue, even in an awful year. But you have to sift through what’s cyclical and what’s not.”
Indeed, the biggest irony in newspapers’ plight is that they actually reach more readers now than ever.
Although paid daily circulation for newspapers has dropped about 7 percent during the past two years, those eyeballs have been more than replaced by those who view the stories on Web sites, blogs, e-mail blasts, text-messaging services, and mobile phone/BlackBerry services. Newspapers or their Web sites will reach an average 77 percent of adults in a week and 82 percent of adults who have made an Internet purchase in the past year, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
So why can’t newspapers make money off of all these people using their information?
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CASE STUDY: DOES SEATTLE’S SAD EXPERIENCE FORETELL THE END OF TWO-PAPER CITIES?
This is was a battle Anne Bremner thought she already had won. Back in 2003, when The Seattle Times took action that threatened to close the doors of its biggest rival, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bremner couldn’t bear the thought of living in a town with just one newspaper.
A local attorney known for her work as a legal analyst on cable TV shows such as CNN Headline News’ Nancy Grace and Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, Bremner joined with other folks to form the Committee for a Two Newspaper Town, a coalition that tried to represent the interests of readers and newspaper employees in fighting to keep both outlets open.
After legal wrangling that led to the Supreme Court and beyond, a settlement was crafted in 2007 allowing both papers to keep going in a unique partnership they first forged in 1983, called a joint operating agreement (JOA).
So it left a bitter taste in Bremner’s mouth when she discovered that the P-I would close on March 17 of this year anyway — shut down by owner Hearst Corp., after it failed to find a buyer for the money-losing paper in January.
The P-I continues to publish a Web site, but only 20 of the newsroom’s 167 journalists kept their jobs. And Bremner can’t help wondering where all the reporting will come from to fuel the Web site’s dispatches, if 92 percent of the editorial employees are gone.
“I think it’s a civic crisis,” said Bremner, who joined with other coalition members to beg publicly for a wealthy patron in the community to buy the 146-year-old publication. “This newspaper started during the Civil War before Seattle was a cityâ€¯.â€¯.â€¯. and the irony of all this. To fight like that for so many years and then have it end like this. It’s such a sad day for Seattleâ€¯.â€¯.â€¯. I’m just heartsick.”
David McCumber can sympathize. As managing editor of the P-I, McCumber had the unenviable task of leading the newsroom through its fights over the JOA, news that the paper had lost $14 million in 2008 and Hearst’s efforts to sell the company before finally shuttering Seattle’s oldest business on St. Patrick’s Day.
“Obviously, I would have loved the chance to keep running a newspaper in Seattleâ€¯.â€¯.â€¯. you never want to just quit,” said McCumber, who did not remain at the company after the transition to digital. “But ad revenue was way off this yearâ€¯.â€¯.â€¯. Even projections that predicted a significant loss were higher than the numbers we were making. So I’m not going to second-guess anybody.”
In addition to the general issues every newspaper has with the crumbling economy and disintegrating moneymaking model in print, the big problem in Seattle was the JOA.
Dreamed up by the newspaper industry with federal help in the mid-’80s, joint operating agreements helped keep one newspaper from dominating a town by allowing the two biggest players to team up for advertising sales, newspaper delivery, subscription sales, and printing.
But in the P-I’s case, that meant its rival, The Seattle Times, was in charge of all those things — controlling the advertising sales, distribution, and printing — while assuming 60 percent of revenues or costs. So the smaller paper had trouble establishing its identity and always wonders whether the larger paper is doing enough to sell its ads and service its customers.
“I’ve worked at four newspapers in JOAs over the years, and each time I’ve said, ‘This one is more messed up than the last one,’ and I was right,” said McCumber. “It’s hard for the public to understand who you are, it’s hard for the business operation — to have your affairs being run by the company that’s in direct competition with you is a tough model,” he said.
In 2000, one year after the P-I won its first Pulitzer Prize, The Seattle Times moved to publish as a morning paper, placing it in direct competition with the P-I. Three years later, The Seattle Times owners tried triggering an “escape clause” that allowed them to abandon the JOA and leave the P-I struggling to find new methods to print, deliver, and sell ads.
McCumber said that, when executive Steven Swartz was named president of Hearst Newspapers in December, he wanted to send a signal to the company’s 54 other daily and weekly newspapers that changes had to be made. So the P-I was first placed for sale, with executives noting that it would close if a purchase wasn’t completed in 60 days.
“What was being sold was a position in a complex JOA in a market that has been posting losses for years,” said McCumber, who noted that newspapers with a history of making money, such as the Austin American-Statesman in Texas and the San Diego Union-Tribune, were for sale at the same time with no takers.
Indeed, in a town that some of the country’s richest men call home, including billionaire Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, it was telling that no boldfaced names stepped forward to aid the struggling P-I.
“Basically, you’re asking people to make a small fortune in the newspaper business by starting with a large one,” McCumber said.
And even with the P-I re-created as an online-only product, questions remain on whether its rival will last long alone.
The Seattle Times’ reporting has cited rumors for months that the company’s debt and declining revenue may force it to file for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, even as it attempts to wring pay concessions from a staff that has shrunk 40 percent since 2003.
“This quarter will probably be the all-time bad one in my career/lifetime,” Seattle Times Publisher-CEO Frank Blethen wrote in an e-mail to top executives and family, as quoted by the newspaper. “As will the two- to three-year [economic downturn] we are in.”
In the short term, The Seattle Times has converted all P-I subscriptions to its publication, while asking former P-I readers to consider staying with their newspaper.
“That’s the question: Can a good-size metropolitan market support one newspaper?” McCumber said.
“You’ll hear people here saying that it’s like when we went from the horse and buggy to automobiles, but when it comes to asking where will we get our news, I think it’s really more like dinosaurs and extinction. And is that really a good idea?” — E.D.
What Ails the Industry
Experts agree that today’s newspapers are trapped in a vortex of downward trends that has sent many into death spirals.
â€¢ The Internet has dismantled the engine that turned newspapers into moneymaking machines for decades: the classified advertisement. Newspapers earn an average of 40 percent of their revenue from such ads, but free online sites such as Monster.com, eBay, and Craigslist have allowed consumers to find jobs, apartments, and yard sale customers free of charge — removing a huge chuck of funds that once fueled newspaper growth.
â€¢ Many big newspaper and media companies are struggling under huge debts they incurred when times were good. As rising real estate prices fueled condo developments and an explosion of lending years ago, companies used the flowing cash to secure loans to buy larger groups of newspapers. But now that advertising revenues are down, some companies owe much more than the profits they are taking in.
â€¢ Americans are turning away from the newspaper habit as generations progress. Paid subscriptions at major newspapers have dropped steadily during the past few years, as middle-aged consumers read news for free online and younger consumers watch it on The Daily Show. Unfortunately, many news organizations earn about 90 percent less for each reader who sees an advertisement online, plunging advertising revenue further.
“Generationally, we’ve never seen this kind of divide of reading preference habits between generations,” says newspaper analyst Ken Doctor, a former editor at newspapers such as the St. Paul Pioneer Press and former vice president of supervising digital strategies for the now-dissolved newspaper company Knight-Ridder. “If you ask people under 30 how they want to take in the news, they’ll say I watch TV, read online, maybe a little radio. They realize newspapers are yesterday’s news — why would you read yesterday’s news?”
Which may explain a recent survey from the Pew Research Center for People and the Press indicating that “fewer than half of Americans (43 percent) say losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community a lot. Even fewer (33 percent) say they would personally miss reading the local newspaper if it were no longer available.”
â€¢ The cratering economy has affected those who advertise heavily in newspapers the most. Consider the biggest victims of the cash crunch: auto dealers, retail stores, home builders, and hiring companies. In May 2008, Richmond, Va.-based Media General, owner of 300 publications and 22 TV stations, announced that its classified advertising revenue had declined 29 percent from the year before, along with a 42 percent decline in employment ad revenue, a 40 percent drop in real estate ad revenue, and a 38 percent dip in automotive ad revenue.
Some experts estimate that about half of newspapers’ financial woes stem from the overall recession and the other half spring specifically from the way online technology is eating away at their business model (toss in the high cost of newsprint, which rose to a 12-year high last fall, prompting many companies to reduce the size of their editions).
Put it another way: Because advertising has covered the real cost of running a newspaper, readers have been taught for decades that the content costs only 35 or 50 cents a day — a fraction of the real cost. At the same time, online technology makes it possible for advertisers to target a very specific audience — and pay only a small amount for that audience — reducing profits further.
And while visionaries such as Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin went about inventing products to serve online needs — How to find an apartment in San Francisco? How to find anything online? — newspapers passed up opportunities for innovation.
“Newspapers are fixated on optimizing and sprucing up an aged business model and an aged relationship with consumers,” says Alan Mutter, a media consultant who once worked as an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times and San Francisco Chronicle. “They shouldn’t be trying to duct tape the box; they should be trying to think outside it. But that’s not something they’ve been required to do.”
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‘WASHINGTON POST’ BUILDING BUSINESS BY BUILDING TRUST
When media executives look at their shrinking audiences, they rarely attribute the decline to liberal bias. But recent developments at The Washington Post demonstrate that a return to fair coverage attracts readers.
Since Katharine Weymouth became publisher more than a year ago, and she named Marcus Brauchli, a former Wall Street Journal editor, executive editor in September, the paper has been making an honest effort to be fair.
Hit-jobs against Republicans have virtually vanished. Instead, the paper presents issues fairly. No longer is the other side suppressed or relegated to the last paragraph.
The results are beginning to show up in circulation numbers. During the six months ending March 31, circulation had declined by just 1.2 percent, despite the fact that young people prefer reading news online. During the first three months of the year, circulation Monday through Friday actually rose by 0.7 percent. In contrast, The New York Times, which has continued to pursue a transparently liberal agenda in its news columns, saw its circulation decline by 3.6 percent in the six-month period.
Although The Washington Post has yet to cover its own metamorphosis, conservatives such as Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the Republican Study Committee; Dave Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union; and Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund have noticed the change and applauded it.
A granddaughter of former Post Chairman Katharine Graham, Weymouth, 43, is a graduate of Harvard College and Stanford Law School. She practiced law at Williams & Connolly in Washington before coming to the Post.
She has a self-deprecating manner and a handshake like a Marine. Understandably, she has not said anything publicly about a change in approach. But privately, editors say the tone has changed since she took over.
The Washington Post shows that if journalists put out an honest product that engenders trust, the public will buy it.
— Ronald Kessler
Will Newspapers Survive?
These days, when talk turns to newspapers, the experts divide quickly into two camps: those who believe some semblance of the current newspaper will survive once the general economy rebounds, and those who think otherwise.
One of the strongest voices in the other camp is Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University considered one of the leading experts on social networking and the economic impact of Internet technologies.
In March, Shirky turned his thoughts toward the newspaper crisis with a potent online essay entitled, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” which insisted that the newspaper industry failed to respond effectively to the challenge of the Internet because their culture made it impossible to imagine a world without newspapers.
“When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry,” Shirky wrote in his piece, which was quoted and displayed on legions of Web sites across cyberspace. “One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of its most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away.”
Shirky noted that it is almost impossible to see what media system will emerge at the far end of newspapers’ struggles, because those caught in the middle of historic cultural revolutions never can predict where they will lead.
“When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution,” Shirky wrote. “They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve the previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.”
So far, many newspapers’ short-term solutions to these economic problems have been to cut: cut down staffing, slice the size of the newspaper, shear coverage, and/or slash delivery areas. But such strategies can save only so much money and run the risk of alienating consumers still devoted to reading their daily newspapers.
“Over the last five years or more, every newspaper in America has taken things away from its print audience,” says James M. Naughton, retired president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in Florida.
“They reduced stock tables, they reduce television listings, they reduced content . . . it’s a tricky thing to do to an audience,” says Naughton, a former reporter and editor at The New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer. “In a lot of places, it’s getting hard to tell the difference between a real newspaper and an advertising throwaway.”
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TODAY’S SPORTS PAGES: NOTHING BUT STRIKEOUTS
Unemployed reporters have moved on to the Internet. That’s good news and bad news.
When Major League Baseball’s 2008 All-Star Game rolled into New York a year ago, the decline of America’s newspapers already was on display in the sparsely populated Yankee Stadium press box. Several major papers, such as The Dallas Morning News and the Cincinnati Enquirer, declined to send reporters to the game.
Since then, the scene has been repeated at many major sports venues as newspapers have slashed staff, burned travel budgets, and pillaged the amount of space for local stories. The consequences are particularly punishing for sports coverage, a place where newspapers traditionally waxed poetic about the human drama of athletic competition. Not to mention high school box scores and schedules.
“The days of midsized metro papers sending their columnist to the Masters, the NCAA Final Four, and the World Series every year are long gone and won’t be coming back,” John Moriello, president of the New York State Sportswriters Association, told SportsBusiness Journal. “Maybe he still gets to cover the Super Bowl, but you’d better believe the boss expects a dozen stories that week.”
Major League Baseball spokesman Patrick Courtney told the trade publication that newspapers are sending fewer reporters to cover postseason games. “In the past, for a World Series, we could get three or four people from a paper,” he said. “Now you may see one or two.”
Newspaper cuts have hit NASCAR particularly hard. To keep the sport in the spotlight, NASCAR officials have responded by bolstering Web content with video interviews with drivers after every race. That move to new media has many convinced the Web will make up for lost print coverage.
“There is a new universe in news coverage: The people who used to be able to write one story if they were lucky can blog 20 times per day,” Frank Brown, group vice president of media relations at the NHL and a former reporter for the New York Daily News, told the SportsBusiness Journal. “You can make the argument that the fan is being better served by the evolution and the [Web] coverage.”
Indeed, Web sports are thriving even as newspapers decline. Yahoo! Sports now pulls in more than 25 million visitors a month, just ahead of second-place player ESPN.com at 22 million. As a result, the two Web sports powerhouses have been able to offer lavish salaries and lure experienced writers away from dwindling sports sections at major papers.
But for fans of local newspaper coverage, trading the sports section for the Web stories leaves them wanting.
“Pro sports, every single league, from the NFL to NBA to MLB to MLS to NHL need newspapers,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban writes on Blog Maverick. “There is no shortage of coverage of professional sports on the Web. But despite the huge volume of sports coverage, the local coverage of teams for the most part sucks. That’s a bad scenario for sports leagues.”
As deputy editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Frank Fellone isn’t sure he believes those industry experts who are convinced newspapers can’t charge online readers for the stories they have been reading free for years.
That’s because his newspaper — the state’s largest daily, based in Little Rock — has charged readers to access most of the news stories on its Web site for years, led by a publisher who insists that such a paywall has helped keep up paid circulation.
The paper began charging for online news “because people were saying to us, ‘Thanks for making the Web site free, now I don’t have to subscribe,’” Fellone says. “Common sense says, when you lose subscriptions, that’s a bad thing. If people are telling you that, why would you give it away for free?”
Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr. is a longtime advocate of charging customers to read the newspaper’s content online, penning a column for The Wall Street Journal in 2007 on the perils of free online content titled, “How to Sink a Newspaper.” As newspapers’ economic woes have grown, Hussman’s ideas have gained more traction, with former Time magazine managing editor Walter Isaacson and magazine publisher Steve Brill recently suggesting that news outlets charge “micropayments” for stories to earn extra revenue. Subscribers to the print version of the Democrat-Gazette get free access to online versions of the newspaper’s stories, while others can pay $4.95 a month. Just 3,400 non-print subscribers pay for access, totaling $200,000 annually, according to BusinessWeek magazine; the newspaper’s daily print subscriptions total 175,000.
But the Democrat-Gazette’s online strategy hasn’t shielded it from the same forces buffeting other newspapers. This year, the newspaper announced it would lay off 50 to 60 employees, and remaining employees would take a 5 percent pay cut.
“It seemed like we were doing OK until the last quarter of 2008, when the general economy started to slide more and it caught up with us,” Fellone says. “People don’t understand that news is labor intensive. It takes a lot of educated people, and those people have to be paid.”
In Ohio, Cleveland Plain Dealer Sports Editor Roy Hewitt is polling members of The Associated Press Sports Editors group to see whether they would be willing to share content among the more than 300 member newspapers represented in the organization. It’s something he already does with seven other newspapers in Ohio. More than a year ago, they formed the Ohio Newspaper Organization, creating a password-protected Web site where member newspapers could share stories and coverage plans.
And they aren’t the only newspapers to consider working with former rivals. In Florida, the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald joined forces to maintain a single bureau in the state’s capital; in South Florida, the Herald, the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, and The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach share content, as well.
“Part of this is getting away from the idea that other newspapers are the competition,” Hewitt says. “Certainly, with the cost of travel nowadays and with budgets being reduced, you have to wonder whether you can get by with using other people’s coverage at times.”
Tired of reading all the stories about struggling publications, newspaper designer Alan Jacobson gathered about 20 experts in online news, journalism, and publishing ranging from the NYTimes.com and WashingtonPost.com to National Geographic and the AARP in mid-March. The goal: Find new sources of paid advertising.
Jacobson’s idea: Newspaper advertising and classifieds are too clunky to use; they charge for large crowds of readers when advertisers mostly want to reach small, targeted groups; and they keep advertisers from managing their own ad campaigns.
But if newspapers could make their online advertising as easy to use as Google or Craigslist, perhaps they could make larger profits.
“Journalists have resorted to begging . . . which is shameful,” says Jacobson, who has worked on The New York Times, Seattle Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and dozens of other newspapers through his Brass Tacks Design company located in Virginia. “All their efforts should be focused online, because there’s no future in print.”
The good news for consumers is that newspaper crisis has spurred more experimentation than ever, with outlets creating an array of smaller publications, developing special electronic readers similar to Amazon’s Kindle, experimenting with targeted advertising, considering various micropayment strategies and more.
But the layoffs, downsizing, and shrinking profits have given newspapers fewer resources to develop new products and strategies.
“Journalism is going from being a product — the stories — to being a service: How do we help the consumer find what they want?” says Rosenstiel, of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
“All of this has dawned on us in newspapers a lot slower than those folks in Silicon Valley who have been steeped in consumer stuff,” he says. “They have known for 20 years that business reinvents itself every two years. The question now, is whether newspapers will learn that lesson in time.
As originally published in Newsmax magazine.