Newspapers don’t know how to prevent impending doom

The newspaper industry may still be alive, but it’s slowly dying.

First, some background. Here’s a blog I posted in 2010:

Will people pay to get their newspaper online?

“I think it’s a very short term strategy and it will die with its readers.”
Jeff Jarvis, CUNY journalism professor

Jarvis appeared today with former newspaper editor Alan Mutter on NPR’s Radio Times, a one-hour discussion program produced by WHYY in Philadelphia.

It’s a fascinating and yes, quite grim discussion about the current status and future of newspapers. Here are, and I’m paraphrasing, some of the comments made by Jarvis and Mutter:

Hoping consumers will pay for online news and expecting it to work is a pretty tough call after the product has been free for years.

Despite the fact that the Internet and web browsers aren’t new, newspapers continue to struggle trying to adapt.

The change is too great, the cost is too great and the pain is too great. The future of news is more entrepreneurial as opposed to institutional. Newspapers are too high-bound by an old cost structure of doing things the old way.

The newspaper industry got too fat and too happy for too long in a monopoly-type scenario.

They don’t know how to innovate.

Newspaper revenues have just collapsed, losing almost half of their total revenue since 2005. That’s a major crisis that takes their eye off the ball of doing anything innovative. They are not capable of thinking differently because they’re in a state of abject panic.

Reality is harsh. One editor of a highly respected paper told one of the guests she thought it would be best if the institutions just died so they could be replaced and get on with doing journalism again.
—This Just In…March 2, 2010

Unfortunately the podcast of that fascinating program is no longer available.

Now it’s 2022 and the question may have gone from “Will people pay to get their newspaper online?” to “Will consumers have no choice?”

In 2018 the CEO of the NY Times said his paper’s print life expectancy is about 10 years.

Fast forward. Earlier this month Charles Lipson, the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago wrote:

A few years ago, you would have unfolded your newspaper and read opinion and analysis like this. Those days are gone. Today, most of us get our news and commentary online, perhaps supplemented by network or cable television.

Buried is the public’s confidence in news from all sources. How dramatic is this change in the way we get our news? What’s driving it? What have we gained and lost? And how do these changes affect our deeply divided nation?

The most important point is the most obvious: The changes are huge – and irreversible. The decline is relentless. Print papers are losing one out of eight subscribers every year. Their daily circulation, over 63 million at its peak in the 1980s, is now about one-third that size.

What is driving this tectonic shift, away from print and toward online news? In a word, technology. Cheap, ubiquitous computing is killing print papers by introducing competition and choice. This new, competitive environment has destroyed papers’ profitable monopolies for local advertising dollars.

AND FINALLY, to localize this negative trend, veteran journalist Bruce Murphy writes:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel may face yet another round of staff layoffs.

This comes after news that its parent company, Gannett, which owns more than 100 daily newspapers and nearly 1,000 weekly papers nationally, reported a dismal second quarter financially, with key revenue sources down, costs up and a loss of $54 million on revenues of $749 million. The company’s stock is down nearly 55% for the year and has dropped even further, from $6.28 in late February, to $2.51 today.

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