The Newspapers Are Dying

I read an article yesterday on Open Salon about how the Reading Eagle newspaper in Pennsylvania just let 52 people go from their jobs with no severance. They cited falling advertising revenues.

Mmm hmm. Because advertising is how papers make their money.

And because newspapers believed that they were always going to attract the same numbers of local readers. Which is how they were able to set their advertising rates. Higher circulation numbers meant higher rates for ad inches. The more ads sold, the more money the paper made. More ads meant a larger newspaper, because the ads maintained a profit margin and allowed for the expense of the extra paper it was printed on.

But why pay for something you can get for free, right? I mean, that’s why newspapers didn’t like the internet, and why earlier on big name papers charged for online subscription services.

But wait a second…

Hold on a sec, there, bub. Doesn’t it seem like the papers forgot why they were able to charge their rates for the advertising space in the first place?  I mean, the ad space was worth more in certain sections and at certain days of the week (like Sunday, for example) because more people read the paper then. More attention, more value to the advertisers, more money the advertisers were willing to pay for ad space, more money that got spent on purchasing paper and ink in bulk, lowering overhead costs and driving up profits.

Give it away for free online, though… and what? Well, new wisdom says you give away the content for free to drive up the attention from readers, clock those metrics, and use the traffic on your site to determine the value of ad space. Why didn’t newspapers figure this out?

All the news thats fit to…

But wait a second. The Associated Press, Reuters, and other similar news wire services function on the premise that news requires local carriers. Participating papers all fed into the same pool of news stories, and anyone in the pool could use them to write their local news. Single source, multiple versions. That’s why reading an AP story in one paper is much the same as reading an AP story in another.

Online, however, no geography playing in. And if your news is the exact same as the news everywhere else that bought into the Associated Press… well, why should I give my attention to my local newspaper, then? I can just read the NY Times website and see all the AP stories I can choke down. It’s free, it’s higher quality than my local rag, and it’s global.

Between the lack of differentiation in news stories as well as the lack of understanding of the ‘free content’ paradigm which was emerging in the late 90’s, the newspaper industry didn’t stand a chance. It’s been dying a slow and painful death ever since. Especially since there are only so many uber-media companies anymore. It’s not like any one newspaper has a certain flavor over another.

Oh wait. Some do. And those are the papers which are still surviving well despite the change in paradigm and media.

Well, it sucks to be the Reading, Pennsylvania Eagle paper. But then, nowadays, it sucks pretty much to be any paper. Especially since they can’t just get away with hiring 2nd rate quasi-journalists who toe the corporate line and regurgitate stories from the major news wire services. Instead, it takes edgy, unique, risk-taking writers who are willing to chase the story and go where they need to go with it, and equally supportive editors willing to piss off the establishment and really capture a voice and tone for their media house.

Good luck to those laid off employees. It certainly does suck to be released without severance after years upon years of service.


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