Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The demise of newspapers is not overrated

Featured Commentary

Late last year Entrepreneur magazine predicted that newspapers would be extinct within ten years. While this might be something you can't really see when you consider the Darth Vader-like death grip El Nuevo Dia has on the market here, elsewhere, however, this prediction is advancing quite nicely, thank you very much.

The last two months have seen a bloodbath at some of America's largest newspaper publishers, with substantial job cuts hitting a number of papers, including a high proportion of newsroom positions. The layoffs have visited McClatchy, Media General, the Tribune Co., the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, among others.

For those of you keeping score at home, here are how the layoffs stacked up:

Media General got things started in late May with its announcement that it would cut 810 positions across its properties in the southeast. As part of the reductions, the Tampa Tribune (along with its sister broadcast station WFLA-Channel 8) lost about 110 positions, or about 8% of the total 1,326, including at least 50 in the newsroom. Why for such drastic action? Media General's total revenues fell 10% in the second quarter compared to the same period in 2007, to $204.8 million.

The Washington Post cut 100 newsroom positions--or about 12% of the total 800--through a combination of voluntary buyouts and attrition. This followed two earlier rounds of buyouts in 2003 and 2006.

Gannett has also cut hundreds of positions since May, including 50 at USA Today, 55 layoffs at four newspapers in New Jersey, 150 buyouts at the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News (about 7.5% of the total 2,000) and an unspecified number of graphic design positions company-wide. This week Gannett announced that total revenues tumbled 9.9% in the second quarter of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007, to $1.72 billion, with President and CEO Craig Dubow admitting that "the weakening economy had a dramatic impact on our results."

In mid-June McClatchy announced that it was cutting 1,400 jobs, or about 10% of its work force--the single biggest cut in the mid-summer purge (so far). McClatchy's restructuring plan follows an earlier reduction of 13%--or around 2,000 employees--from 2006-2008. The company will have shed over 20% of its workforce in three years, when the second round of cuts is complete.

The Tribune Co. is hitting all its big properties. The Chicago Tribune is cutting 80 newsroom positions, or about 14% of the total 578, and an unspecified number of jobs in other divisions like ad sales and production. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times is cutting 250, including 150 positions in the newsroom, or about 17% of the total. The Baltimore Sun is cutting 100 positions across its various divisions. Several of Tribune's smaller papers were hit especially hard: the Hartford Courant is losing 57 and the Orlando Sentinel 50 from its newsroom.

I think you get the idea here. But guess what? That's not the end of it. There were cuts announced at the Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Tribune, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the Palm Beach Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Wall Street, the Boston Herald, and the New York Times.

Conclusion

While I think that, like most other business trends and technologies, it's going to take some time before we start to see this at El Nuevo Dia, I think that it's coming. I've been noticing that the Dia has been on a bit of a diet lately. Many times throughout the week, the number of pages printed seem to be less and less. This is not a good sign for them. Between the lost revenue in their classified department, and now the shrinking paper, I bet they are in the red and losing blood quickly. While their sister paper Primera Hora has already let some people go, I've yet to see any from the Dia, but I'm guessing it's only a matter of time.

The demise of newspapers is a little alarming when you consider that we now have less journalists covering the news. Maybe it's retribution for the shitty job they've down covering the Bush administration and the Iraq conflict, but remember, less is always less. So less journalists means that there are fewer chances now that someone will have the balls to write the things that need to be written.

Help us Obi-Wan Blogobi, you're our only hope

While we may be less professionally prepared, the blogging community is quickly becoming our last hope. By separating the economic incentive from the desire to communicate the news (or at least from a bloggers limited perspective and reach), we can easily see a complete transformation of the news industry in progress. I see some real similarities between what is happening with news generation and what happened with Open Source Software and the rise of a community of developers motivated by scratching their own itch rather than a paycheck. Of course the dis-similarities make the two industries unique enough to demand much more research and analysis to better understand what new business models might be possible; business models that can potentially save the journalism industry.

Journalism, as pointed out by Al Gore in his new book "An End of Reason," is a critical piece of the democratic process. Without a well-informed citizenry, special interests will have it easy when they want to manipulate the remaining news mediums to their benefit. This my friends, is a very dangerous path we are on. In order for our democracy to have any chance of surviving we must find a way to keep its citizens informed. The Internet seems like that way. If that seems to be the simple answer, (for now), then we should begin to transform our news consumption habits. While you may not think of Dondequiera as a news source, I'd ask why not? Did you know that I studied journalism in a previous life and almost decided to work in that profession? Did you know that I've been blogging (writing) for 7 years now? What makes Dondequiera any different than El Nuevo Dia? Sure they have more reach and can cover more topics, but we are talking about quantity, not quality here.

I think that everyone should start to examine how they are incorporating blogs and other amateur news mediums into their lives and start to give them the support necessary to keep them around. Whether that is supporting the businesses behind those mediums (i.e., buying their products), making donations, telling your friends to subscribe to their RSS feeds, or beginning the two way conversation so essential to an informed citizenry; they need our help. The more choices we have when it comes to our sources for news, the better; let's all work together to grow as many as possible. -- Mc Don Dees of Donde Quiera

This commentary by Mc Don Dees was originally published in the Donde Quiera blog on July 19. Visit the blog at http://blog.dondees.com.
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