Print Is Dead


So what are journalism professors, those charged with grooming the
next generation of reporters, editors and producers, telling their
students these days about the news business in general, and print
journalism, that seemingly most endangered of species, in particular?

“I’m telling my students to find a new profession,” says
journalism Professor Tony Chan of the University of Washington at

“Print, as we know it, is dead. Kaput,” he adds. “Print is ‘Dead Man Walking.'”

The first time I heard this was in 1995, when I was in college, and the batshit crazy professor who said it to me said we’d all be out of work in a year. Newspapers would have to go online, thus cutting most of their costs, and step two may have been unclear but step three was clearly profit. Thirteen years ago, we were all gonna be flying around in our jetpacks reading news on a thing attached to our brains, jacked in like that hose in the Matrix, by this point. Yet here we are. Newspapers all over the place.

Most of them making, as I’ve posted before, a FUCKTON of money:

I’ve recently had an opportunity to review margins for most of GCI’sU.S. newspapers as of a year ago (USA Today isn’t included). They’re disclosed in an internal report, theCost & Statistical Summary, provided to me by aGannett Blog
reader; it covers the first three quarters (periods 1-9) of 2007. The
reader asked to remain anonymous, citing possible repercussions if
identified. The reader did not have more current data, for 2008.Andthe reader requested I not share copies of the report with anyone.

Green Bay: No. 1 at 42.5%
The numbers are startling — especially now, with Gannett poised tolay off perhaps thousands of newspaper workers next week in another bid to boost the company’s flaggingstock. Every newspaper except Detroit’s was profitable a year ago — although some, just barely so.

TheGreen Bay Press-Gazette was the star. It had the single-highest profit margin: 42.5%. In other words, Green Bay
kept 43 cents of every dollar it took in. The paper’s total ad revenue
over the three quarters: $25 million. The report doesn’t disclose
circulation revenue for any paper. Applied only to ad revenue, then, Green Bay made around $10.6 million during the period.

If you or I owned a business that performed like this, we would buy Barbados and spend the rest of our lives stinking drunk.

At the time I was told print would be dead in a year, plenty of very serious people were very concerned about the Internet, and I’m not saying they were wrong to be concerned. I am saying they were wrong to manage their money as if there was no Internet, no possible threat to their business, and to demand greater and greater profits from an industry that quite frankly, with as many proclamations of death as it has faced, should be grateful to be alive and in decent health.

Will print be dead a year from now? No. Certain newspapers, the victims of terrible management, rapacious greed and years of being run by people I wouldn’t swerve around in my car, will be dead a year from now. Which is horrific by itself; having closed a newspaper, I can’t even read the stories about theSeattle Post-Intelligencer without feeling nauseous, but it’s not the same as saying print is dead, or even that newspapers are dead.


4 thoughts on “Print Is Dead

  1. From time to time, I see an ads in my small-town newspaper which offer other small-town papers for sell. They all talk about their excellent money-making potential and history of money making.

  2. For all its faults, the Seattle PI was my paper. I subscribed to it until I couldn’t afford it. I read it at the library, the coffee shop, and online. When I was 8 I delivered it to my neighbors every morning before 6am.
    If I could choose between the Times and the PI, I would have nuked the Times. Owned by a wingnut bastard who would spit on his grandmother for a dime, it never ceased to amaze me in its oafish editorials.
    Shit happens and we’ll survive.

  3. My newspaper experience has been in the world of weeklies, where decent profits and circulation gains are not uncommon.
    Our suburban Chicago weekly, until the Bush recession, was gaining an average of 7 percent in circulation a year, and we’d been doing it for the past six or seven years. Meanwhile, the daily with which we competed most closely, was losing circulation each year. And this in one of the fastest growing areas of the nation.
    I’ve pondered this since retiring, and have come to a couple of conclusions. First, people will pay for local news content, but they won’t pay an arm and a leg. Dailies need to cut their subscription rates, in my opinion. If they did, I believe their circulation would start rebounding.
    But there’s also point number two: You’ve got to give people news they can really use. Our weeklies strongly cover local government, particularly the schools, municipalities, and, to a lesser extent, county and other local governments from library boards to the park district board. Our primary goal has always been to cover where people’s property tax dollars go. The sign on our newsroom wall read: “How much will it cost and who’s going to pay for it?” And we did an award-winning job of it, too.
    Meanwhile, the daily in question only covers local government when there’s a controversy. They don’t have regular government beat reporters much any more, and the coverage they do supply is hit or miss. At a time when local school districts were spending millions expanding facilities to take care of all the new resident moving in, they were filling their front page with crime stories. Granted, those are important, but people want information about what’s happening in their community. When’s that road widening project going to happen? What do all those property tax dollars the schools get pay for? Are the kids in school really learning or not? How will that new comprehensive development plan affect municipal residents?
    We found if you supply lots of good information, along with local commentary, people will buy your product–which is NEWS. And we didn’t use any of those stupid focus groups, either. People don’t know what news they want to read until they read it. Ask them what they want, and they’ll say more people-oriented features. And then they’ll complain that nobody told them the library district was holding a tax increase referendum.
    But while people are willing to foot the bill for a sub to a weekly at a cost of less than $50 a year, they’re hesitant to pay $200 a year for a daily sub, especially when they aren’t getting that news they really can use. So my suggestion for some bold daily is slash subscription prices, and see what happens. And beef up local governmental coverage, possibly at the expense of some of the gimicky stuff we find in newspapers these days. Concentrate on your core market, and don’t try to be a regional news power until you’ve got your local area covered like a blanket.
    I suspect the newspapers actually making money are the ones being run by people who came up through the news division and not the advertising or accounting divisions. Because lots of papers are making money. They’re the ones that get bought up by some big chain, which then trashes everything that made the paper successful in the name of “economy,” and then is astonished when circulation and advertising tanks.
    Yes, indeedy, it’s the management, stupid. Far too much of it really is stupid.

  4. Athenae, I thought of you yesterday morning. I live in an apartment building near downtown Los Angeles and I stopped my Times subscription after the first week when the paper was stolen from in front of my apartment 6 out of those 7 days. I buy it from a vending machine on the way to my car. Yesterday, I was stunned to find out that they’ve raised the price to 75 cents. A price raise after that scumbag Sam Zell has eviscerated the paper; it used to take me my whole lunch break to read everything I wanted to, now it takes 20 minutes.
    As I told my friend who is a Foreign Desk editor, “I guess the business model is slash the contents in half and charge more”.

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