Readings About Newspapers

16 Jan

Some interesting things I read about  newspaper business lately. 

James Surowiecki writes in the New Yorker  that

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.

Here’s a valuable Q&A on the StarTribune’s bankruptcy filling.

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.

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2 Responses to “Readings About Newspapers”

  1. Adam Singer January 16, 2009 at 11:46 am #

    “The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn’t the Internet; it’s us.”

    Yes yes and yes! You hit the nail on the head – people need to stop “blaming” the internet.

    Let’s not blame the tools, they are merely enables and nothing without people. This is a nice dose of sanity – people blaming technology is one of the silliest arguments I have heard yet I see it written on in publications like the Journal all the time.

    It is ridiculous that some people think technology is to blame or even have a fear of technology.

    • Ken Kadet January 16, 2009 at 11:55 am #

      Thanks … let me first say that those wonderful words are those of Surowiecki, not me! Editing error, now corrected.

      Second, that, of course is the problem for newspapers, journalists and their apologists…it’s never profitable to blame the customer.

      I’m feeling stronger these days that the coming challenge for newspaper style journalism is to get people willing to support and pay for their product. Looking at the StarTribune bankruptcy filing, there’s a nicely profitable business in there … if you can stop the organization from being crushed by debt and accept that your profits will be closer to 5-10% versus 20-30%.

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