Monday, October 6, 2008

The Hastening Decline of the American Newspaper

Last week Tribune Co. debuted the all new, redesigned Chicago Tribune. Frank the Tank, who publishes the Chicago sports/Illinois Fighting Illini sports/national sports/politics/pop culture blog Frank the Tank's Slant, and who has been critical
of recent changes
that the Chicago Tribune has undergone since real estate mogul Sam Zell purchased the Tribune Co. in 2007, voiced his displeasure with the redesigned Tribune in the blog post "Someone Vomited on My Newspaper."

Mr. Tank wrote that the redesigned Tribune looked like USA Today -- which was the exact reaction that I had when I first saw the new paper. So upset was Mr. Tank by the design/content of the new Tribune, he emailed the paper's editor to articulate his objections. Mr. Tank prefaced those objections by explaining to the editor that he had feared the worst upon learning of the pending redesign:

"I feared that the Tribune was advocating “form over substance”, meaning that it would switch around portions of the paper and make heavier use of graphics without making real substantive changes. I also questioned the paper going the route of USA Today as opposed to the New York Times or Wall Street Journal not just from a journalistic perspective but from a pure business standpoint. It’s incredulous that a local newspaper that depends on hometown subscribers would follow the model of USA Today, whose circulation is primarily based upon giving papers away for free to out-of-town travelers in hotels and has virtually no subscribers."

Mr. Tank went on to explain why he thought the Tribune's redesign would fail to revitalize that newspaper:

"(I)t’s insulting that the leaders of “old media” seem to believe that members of Generation Y just want flashy graphics and junk food news about celebrities and crime. While those of us 30-and-under certainly enjoy snarky blogs about Hollywood, we are also the most media-savvy generation anywhere and crave great substantive reporting as well (hence, that’s why you see the New York Times and Washington Post websites high on the list of most-visited sites on the Internet but USA Today is nowhere to be found). The Tribune has made a huge substantive error with its redesign. At the end of the day, it will not attract any more of the younger set of potential readers while also alienating its long-time subscribers like myself."

In August, Drive and Dish discussed the Chicago Tribune and its relation to the overall decline of the American newspaper.

Implicit in the Chicago Tribune's recent decision to change its design is a certain desperation to keep that paper relevant in a rapidly changing media landscape.

Last month in the American, Jonathan Yardley described the newspaper business as an industry in crisis:

"Make no mistake about it, this is a crisis. Speaking in May to a group of journalists, Rupert Murdoch pointed out that, as his own newly acquired Wall Street Journal reported, “in the last five or six months, the average newspaper had seen its ad revenue drop 10 to 30 percent.” A decade and a half ago, the average daily circulation of the Post was 832,232; it is now 638,000. The Washington Post Company’s operating revenue in 1999 was $157 million; last year it was $66 million. Newspaper consultant Mark Potts has examined the overall financial picture for American newspapers and, as reported by Charles Layton in the June/July issue of The American Journalism Review (AJR), predicts that “by the year 2020 print ad revenue will be about half what it is today,” leaving newspapers with “six more years of economic pain—continued cuts in staff, newshole and newsgathering resources—before they even start to turn a corner” with improved revenue from Internet advertising."

Yardley continued:

“The scariest problem,' AJR reported, 'is that many papers won’t share in the online growth….And even as the industry as a whole survives, we may begin seeing, pretty soon, big American cities with no daily newspaper.' As Potts puts it: 'It’s going to be really bloody, incredibly devastating. And I think there are going to be a lot of major metros that don’t make it.”

I've always loved newspapers. I started reading the sports page of my local daily (a suburban Chicago newspaper) and of the Chicago Tribune when I was about nine or ten years old. Every day, I would read the sports page in its entirety as soon as I got home from school. Eventually, I started reading other sections of the paper too.

And whenever I visited out of town family members, I read their daily papers too. By the time I was in junior high, I was reading three newspapers a day. Since the local suburban papers had coverage of youth sports leagues and junior high scholastic sports, I poured over the box scores of every soccer game, little league game, and junior high basketball game -- obsessively comparing my statistics (and those of my friends) to the stats of kids from leagues/schools in other, nearby towns. And I read my suburban hometown's weekly community paper from cover to cover.

When I was in 8th grade, my mother's elderly aunt fell and broke her hip. After she got out of the hospital, she moved in with us. She had her hometown paper mailed to our house every day (it would arrive one or two days late). I started reading that paper too. My great aunt stayed with us for a little over a year, but after she left (and her newspaper no longer came to our house), I truly missed reading that newspaper every.

By the time I got to high school, I was regularly reading at least four or five papers (although a couple of them were small suburban papers that specialized in coverage of high school sports, and which I read for the primary reason of finding out whether or not I'd made it into the sports page).

As a freshman in college, I started reading the local papers from the area in which I attended college (in addition to the Chicago Tribune that college students could subscribe to and have sent to their campus). I transferred to a different school in a different city, and started reading that city's paper too. And when I had a Comparative Politics class, I had to subscribe to the New York Times to keep up with global geopolitical events.

I've been a regular reader of the local paper in very city that I've lived in, no matter how short my stay in that particular city. And I've always made a point of buying the local paper in any city or town that I visit.

What's more, I've read -- and continue to read online -- the hometown papers of cities in which I (or organizations for which I've worked/had other strong ties) have had regular business/work related dealings. I think that it's always good to have a working knowledge of what's going on in the cities and towns that you -- or your company/organization -- do business in. And since I've worked in politics, worked for a large service based corporation and worked for a family owned (my family) manufacturing business, and have tried to keep up with the daily news from a lot of cities, towns, and nations, I've read an awful lot of different newspapers.

Ultimately, I've been either a regular or semi regular reader of the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Southtown, Joliet Herald News, Orland Park/Frankfort/Mokena Star, Daily Herald, Naperville Sun, Quad City Times, Rock Island Argus, (Harlingen, TX) Valley Morning Star, Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Raleigh News & Observer, Charlotte Observer, Nashville Tenneseean, Bloomington/Normal Pantagraph, Peoria Journal-Star, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, New York Post, New York Daily News, New York Sun (R.I.P.), Buffalo News, Indianapolis Star, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Florida Times-Union, Salt Lake Tribune, Desert News, Denver Post, Rochester Post-Bulletin, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Miami Herald, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Philadelphia Inquirer, New Orleans Times-Picayune, etc.


And that's not even counting the papers that I've read for business related/work purposes (several of which are overseas papers). Based on my newspaper reading habits -- both past and present -- I could probably be considered a connoisseur of American Newspapers. And as such, I find Yardley's prediction of an America in which many cities have no daily newspaper to be troubling.

I hope it doesn't come to that. But I wouldn't be surprised if it does.


wrigleyville hawkeye said...

Dude, I read the Onion. Other than that, I get my news from the Daily Show and Olbermann.

But I read the Daily Kos, the HuffPo and Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo on a daily basis.

And I'm better informed than 95% of the American population.

In fairness, I do read the New York Times too, but not every day.

fat mike said...

i dont read newspapers, but i do look at lots of porn.

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