Thursday, March 12, 2009

THE STATE OF THE FOURTH ESTATE

Time Magazine Names 10 Newspapers Set to Fold

That headline on the internet certainly caught my eyes, but it is difficult to believe that 10 major market daily newspapers cannot operate successfully in today’s economy. If you did not see the Time magazine article here is their list of the newspapers that could shortly cease publication.

Philadelphia Daily News
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Miami Herald
Detroit News (already reduced home delivery days)
Boston Globe
San Francisco Chronicle
Chicago Sun-Times
New York Daily News
Fort Worth Star Telegram
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Already Denver’s Rocky Mountain News has ceased operation, and the Seattle Post Intelligencer is almost out of business. Remember, too, that the Chicago Tribune’s parent company declared bankruptcy back in December.

Why has this happened is the obvious question, and you are bound to hear any number of reasons during this extensive economic crisis. In the few major metropolitan cities where multiple newspapers continue to operate, excessive competition could be the principle answer; but I think the problem is far more complex. Just like the problems facing our Big 3 automobile manufacturers, most newspapers are struggling with unrealistic union contracts. Rising production expenses for paper, ink, as well as travel expenses, labor, and raising subscription fees, etc. all have added to their unprofitable operational model.

Every newspaper, television and radio station has been trying to find a format for profitable internet operations, but thus far none has been found. The explosion of internet usage has drawn readers away from the long successful tabloids and broadsheets. Over an extended period of time the increase of the competitive environment with many more television and radio stations has hurt, as well as changes in life styles. Research indicates that young people no longer have an interest in the daily newspapers as a major source of information, and entertainment.

Just consider the number of people who have their eyes glued to computer games, the internet, Wifi, I-pods, cell phones, 24 hour cable news channels, and a growing number of television and cable outlets, etc. Newspapers have lost their basic appeal to an increasing percentage of today’s population.

Newspapers are having the same problems that television stations are experiencing with burgeoning competition. In the near future you will see a huge increase in joint operating agreements and mergers in TV, especially in medium and small markets. I cannot conceive that in our major cities that at least one newspaper cannot determine a way to operate successfully, but I have been wrong before. Unless the unions and management cannot come to realistic terms all newspapers are doomed.

Maybe your Commander is just out of touch, but I believe that our civilization will be seriously harmed without a vibrant newspaper industry. Yes, our current journalists are excessively influenced by politics, but that could change due to competitive pressures to survive. There have always been liberal and conservative segments of the print media, but unless the ownership, management, journalists, and the various unions get together they will sadly vanish into the pages of history. In a very short period of time, I predict we will read our newspapers via the internet, and hard copies will no longer exist.

What will be next to fall into oblivion? Are books and libraries in danger of extinction due to production and operational costs? I sometimes wonder just how big a price we must pay in the name of progress.

COMMANDER GRANGER

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Commander,

Great blog about the newspaper companies and industry. I recently met some people in the newspaper industry while in Vegas this past week. They were delighted when I told them I still read the newspaper. Their comments were, more people your age need to read the newspaper. I was flattered when they said people my age. I am 31 years old. It's the first thing I look for in the morning. There's nothing better than reading the paper while sipping some coffee during the early hours. I've been reading the newspaper since my high school days. I've grown use to the newspaper and can only hope they're not replaced by the internet. Great, great blog! You have fans in Burnsville, Commander!

Chris