Some interesting things I read about newspaper business lately.
The peculiar fact about the current crisis is that even as big papers have become less profitable they’ve arguably become more popular. The blogosphere, much of which piggybacks on traditional journalism’s content, has magnified the reach of newspapers, and although papers now face far more scrutiny, this is a kind of backhanded compliment to their continued relevance.
Usually, he says, when an industry runs into trouble, “it’s because people are abandoning its products.”
But people don’t use the Times less than they did a decade ago. They use it more. The difference is that today they don’t have to pay for it. The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn’t the Internet; it’s us. We want access to everything, we want it now, and we want it for free. That’s a consumer’s dream, but eventually it’s going to collide with reality: if newspapers’ profits vanish, so will their product.
David Brauer of MinnPost covers the media and has been must-read for tracking local media layoffs. Recently, he reported about the concessions being asked by the StarTribune’s owners of its blue collar union.
I’ve written a bunch about the newsroom cuts, but it seems pretty clear the Strib sees bigger savings whacking anyone whose job is tied solely to the physical paper. The Teamsters are being asked to take more sizable reductions, and have resisted more fiercely; for example, they rejected summertime concessions the newsroom accepted.
Finally (for now), The Atlantic’s Michael Hirschorn weighs in on a potential bankruptcy filing for the New York Times, possibly this spring. He cites the move toward lifestyle fluff that started in the 1970s as a prime contributor to the erosion of a great journalism brand.
Under the guise of “service,” The Times has been on a steady march toward temporarily profitable lifestyle fluff. Escapes! Styles! T magazine(s)! For a time, this fluff helped underwrite the foreign bureaus, enterprise reporting, and endless five-part Pulitzer Prize aspirants. But it has gradually hollowed out journalism’s brand, by making the newspaper feel disposable. The fluff is more fun to read than the loss-leading reports about starvation in Sudan, but it isn’t the sort of thing you miss when it’s gone. Not many people would get misty-eyed over the closure of, say, “Thursday Styles,” fascinating as its weekly shopping deconstructions often are.
And in case you have any loose change around, Hirschorn predicts that the New York Times might, theoretically, be available for as little as $1 billion.