Our Observations

Newspapers: Cutting to the Quick

Somewhere along the way, newspapers forgot what made them desirable: original content. It saddens me to see the state that print journalism has become, since it’s the industry that gave me my start.

Ken Doctor of NiemanLab has a very thoughtful and informative piece on the newspaper industry’s “money hole.” The industry’s total revenue in 2013 came in at $37.5 billion, he says, down $1 billion from the year before.

He writes: “The continued declines in print advertising — down in the high single digits, percentage-wise, year after year — have been too big for other revenue sources to make up the difference.” He explores and evaluates how and where the industry can recover its lost revenue.

The reason for the money hole may be easily blamed on the Internet, social media and changing news consumption habits. Newspapers admittedly entered the digital age awkwardly – not reaching consensus on how to handle the new communication platforms. This created a vicious downward spiral during an incredible economic nightmare. Advertisers cut back. Newspapers responded by cutting staff and content. Subscriptions went down because people didn’t value the product. Newspapers cut more staff and content. Advertisers saw more opportunity for their dollars elsewhere. Newspapers cut more staff and content.

In the end, newspapers kept trimming the quantity and quality of their newspapers and then wondered why people weren’t as interested in their product. This, I realize, is an oversimplified analysis, but fair given that several new organizations – Politico, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and others – understand that content is king and have created models that appear to be successful. Newspapers once were the only place to get "news." But it's hard to generate original and unique content when reporters are overtasked and often inexperienced. Too many good reporters have lost their jobs, robbing newspapers and their readers of in-depth analysis and historical perspective on news and trends. 

Here's hoping that the industry can figure out a way to be more dyanmic and critical to their communities. At this point, though, I have to agree with Mr. Doctor’s summary:

“Our conclusion: The industry, as a whole, is far away from getting to any new stability. Growth that matches inflation would be very difficult; growth that matches the growth of the overall economy even tougher. In fact, even in the areas the industry has looked to for recent growth, the trend lines are the opposite of what we’d hope.”

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