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As Long as We Remember...

March 30, 2009

Print News and Information Wars

Steven R. Berryman

Printed newspapers are under attack. Many will not make it. The “gray ladies,” now printed expensively in color, are ending up still plastic-wrapped in your recycle bucket.


Some evidence: The last times I have elected to halt home delivery of several of my favorites, resulting phone calls from the circulation departments came with offers of free delivery. That’s a desperation move!


From The Chicago Tribune, to The New York Times, legendary papers are borrowing against real estate holdings and offices, laying off productive writers, and, in one case, are now 80% owned by a single Mexican investor.


Rumor has it that fair reporting of our border problems may fall to media bias as a result.


The Washington Post, America’s newspaper of record, has had waves of staff cuts and layoffs. Back in their heyday, the slogan was: “You never knew on what page you would find a page one story.”


Then it was: “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.”


But, why the decline?


The Wall Street Journal had been the only paper so powerful that it could even charge a premium for access to its Internet counterpart, But no more. Now it’s all free!


News competition is so stiff that this give-away of the news on the Internet is as if prostitutes started giving it away “on the house.”


The profit model for these news organizations emanating from the original papers must change with the times. Home delivery subscriptions will continue to decline as families choose between cable service and home delivery.


Hint: The kids get the tie-breaking vote on this!


What had been a gambit by some to run parallel Internet and print operations – as a financially duplicated effort – is now at a decision point; this as print ad revenue declines along with the fates of old partners from retail advertising giants such as department stores.


Their was a day when The Hecht Company, Lord & Taylor’s, and Circuit City would all run the large “double-truck” ads at the same time!


But just as “category killer” retail operations killed department stores, Internet news, blogs, social networking web sites, plus cable TV, and radio efforts all compete for the same customer.


Just as a Best Buy or Hollister or American Eagle would pull customers from a Montgomery Ward, Drudge Report and Politico, and The Tentacle pull at specific interest segments from papers in a very focused way.


Yes, news and information are power, but we are living in a zero-sum time now, more than ever, as we scratch for the almighty dollar. The luxury of lazing with your folded news and a cup of coffee is being replaced by the expediency and immediacy of those other sources.


Not to mention the benefit afforded online by some: You, too, can be heard by responding to or placing “comments” to any article, column, or editorial in many Internet “papers.”


In a world where anger pervades as circumstances warrant, the opportunity to be heard via the comments cannot be underestimated as a draw!


On the Internet, the sheer breadth and diversity of advertising opportunity continues to dilute advertising income for print papers. Web ads just don’t pay enough for large bricks-and-mortar operations with high overhead to continue to function as-is.


Locally, The Frederick News-Post suspends its Monday print edition beginning next week, and goes to a six day format. One reason is related to raw material costs.


In an example of how interconnected our “Great Recession” has become, consider that one reason for the above is that waste wood from housing construction used to be an economical ingredient from which to make the paper itself. But no more, as construction is demised.


Another facet of the problems due to increased competition in the greater universe of all news-media has changed newspapers forever.


As entertainment information outlets have become newsier, newspapers have merged with entertaining.


What had been hard and objective news is now forever blurred. The public trust goes away with this blurring, as the roles of columnists as opinionists merge with real reporters. The truth in disclosure can even be masked by sneaking opinion pieces on to the news pages.


The pressures of the 24/7/365 news cycle favor the nimble, and cause destructive survival temptations to emerge among dailies to “be the news.” The excuse for being for old-line newspapers had been that they served as source material for much of the other news universe.


The above is changing as fast as events are unfolding in the new “Obamanated” world.


Take heart that you will still have to supplement your Monday coffee!


Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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