Thursday, March 26, 2009

Newspapers should have figured this one out years ago

New talk today of cutbacks at the country's most respected daily newspaper publishers focused additional attention on the plight of that industry, which has been losing millions of dollars and subscribers since the Internet explosion. Today's news focused on announcements by the New York Times Co. and Washington Post Co. of new rounds of cost-cutting that will include layoffs and salary reductions, according to the Reuters international news service. The Times said it had laid off 100 workers and cut nonunion salaries, and had asked its unionized workers to make similar concessions. "This was a very difficult decision to make," said a memo sent to employees Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Chief Executive Janet Robinson. "The environment we are in is the toughest we have seen in our years in business." The Post said it was offering another round of buyouts to its news, circulation and production staffs. But none of this was a surprise to anyone in the business. The old newspaper business model -- earning most of the revenue from classified advertising -- just doesn't work anymore because Internet sites can outdo traditional publishing in cost and reach. Yet newspapers have resisted long-term change and in large part failed to develop new revenue sources, leading to large-scale layoffs at U.S. publishers such as Gannett Co. and McClatchy Co. and closures of some of country's best-known newspapers, such as the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and the print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The result has included a dizzying pace of newspaper mergers that created huge conglomerates that have proven unable to sustain themselves. This doesn't seem outrageously difficult. Small papers can make money, massive papers cannot. If the smartest people in the country can't figure out a business model that works with this information, maybe newspaper industry moguls should give up trying to become rich magnates and embrace the not-for-profit world instead. The country needs an informed, literate citizenry -- the very Constitution of the United States was written with the press in mind -- because even back in the late-18th century its advocates understood that the state cannot always be trusted to do the right thing. But if the titans of industry can't get figure out something as simple as this, it may be time to let the most unwieldy of them go under, start again with local, easy-to-print and distribute newspapers, and consign the mega-papers to the circular file of history.


BruceS said...

You've once again only too accurately hit the nail on the head.

Anonymous said...

3 vids by a university multi-speaker conference on the future of newspapers and journalism:

(and see pt 2 and 3)