The Newspaper Industry Is Dying Before Our Very Eyes
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As we know, the death of the American newspaper is fast approaching.
Specifically, the paper editions of newspapers are dying. Readers and advertisers are migrating to the papers' Web sites or to other sources of information on the Internet, thus reducing revenue of the print editions. One day the papers will no longer be on my driveway before dawn, and I will be getting all the news from my computer and my iPhone.
This is a huge economic dilemma for the news industry, as the print editions, rather than the Web sites, supply most of the revenue needed to support the newspapers' news operations and to hire the journalists who dig up the news and edit the stories.
As someone who has been in the news business for most of a lifetime, I'm concerned about the uncertain future of these women and men. Without them, who will "watchdog" politicians and bureaucrats, charity officials, cops, educators and the many others who help make our society run? Who will report and comment on the culture that binds us together? Who will explain the social tensions that tear us apart?
First, the current situation:
The Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and other dailies, the Chicago Cubs and 23 television stations, has filed for bankruptcy. The New York Times has said it will sell or mortgage its headquarters building. The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, a joint publishing operation, announced that they will limit newspaper home delivery to Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays while selling printed copies at newsstands seven days a week. They said their Web sites will expand news coverage.
Finally, Editor & Publisher reported that Fitch Ratings, the credit rating firm, issued a report declaring it "believes more newspapers and newspaper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010."
Newspaper management's reaction to this projection is to cut the staffs. This seems to be killing what's left of the golden goose, but publishers are notoriously shortsighted.
One suggestion for increasing revenue comes from Peter Osnos, founder of the publisher Public Affairs. He pointed out in his Century Foundation column in November that newspapers are giving away news to Google and other search engines.
He said newspaper publishers should do what the book publishers have done: They sued Google and forced an agreement that requires payment for digitizing and distributing copyrighted books. Osnos wrote that "Google has now conceded, with a very large payment, that information is not free. This leads to an obvious critical question: Why aren't newspapers and news magazines demanding payment for use of their stories on Google and other search engines? Why are they not getting a significant slice of the advertising revenue generated by the use of their stories via Google?"
But newspaper management is probably too disorganized and distracted to get together on the long and complex litigation that the proposal would demand.
Then there is the matter of a labor force.
The average entry-level reporter's wages are $25,167 a year, according to Payscale.com. And today's beginning reporters are asked to do more than those starting just a few years before. "In some cases it means being able to go out and report the story, write for online, shoot video, edit from the field, and update for the print edition. And in some cases it means shooting the pictures, creating a slideshow, putting it in Flash, and doing all that in addition to reporting," Ernest Sotomayor, assistant dean of career services at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, told Poynter Online.