More on the Slow, Impending and Eventual Doom of Newspapers

As lascivious, corporate greed and the fall of the American economy both continue unabated, the bowties in their towers built upon strata formed by ink, hot type and pulp look down upon their megacorpconglomeranational empires and, merely, wait.  They abide.  For they know, no matter what happens to the newspaper industry today, tomorrow, or by 2017, the year when the last major American newspapers are predicted to have died, that there is absolutely nothing they can do.  At all.
They also know their executive bonuses and perks are safe, no matter what happens.
They’ll never admit this.  Ever.  Right now, even though newspapers are closing and layoffs are massive, print newspapers bring in more revenue than their online counterparts.  And it’s predicted — accurately, I believe — that their online counterparts will NEVER bring in an equal amount of revenue.
The bowties will never admit any of this because it will devalue their stock even more than their stock is devalued now.
It is, after all, not about news, not about journalism, not about loyal employees, and not about what the community needs.
It’s all about money.
The question remains: How can they stay in business?
The bowties already know the answer to this one.  Hell, it’s as simple as an answer can get:
They can’t.
Warren Buffett summed it up for them.

“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

I’ve written about Jeff Jarvis before, and I think he’s usually on point about his predictions and trendspotting for the newspaper business.  He’s written a piece you should read, that gets to the heart of the issue: deliberately shutting the newspapers, firing thousands, and moving on . . . but to what?

“To take advantage of bankruptcy, a company has to have courage and bold visions of the future. Do newspaper companies? So far, we haven’t seen evidence of it.”

His facts jibe with Papercuts, a site that’s keeping track of the layoffs at newspapers across the country.
The countdown has begun.  2017 is right around the corner.
The bowties better get used to wearing sweat-stained t-shirts and dealing crystal meth out of their doublewides.

Newspapers…Still Not Getting It

About nine months ago, I wrote here about how I knew newspapers were dead.  Okay, at least dying.  Driving themselves to the verge of extinction . . . because they just don’t get it.

What don’t they get?

The present.  How the combination of the evolving whims of consumers and the evolution of technology has sped past them — and the fact that they cannot catch up.


In that link above, I mention Jeff Jarvis.  In an email, Jeff convinced me that a book about the newspaper crisis would not sell — because he was begged by his publisher not to even submit a proposal.

They didn’t want to have to turn him down.

He knows his shit about newspapers and about IT.  And I don’t mean “It,” the word, or It, the Stephen King novel.  He knows his shIT.  And I suggest you look at his blog posts,

What is content, then?


Serendipity is unexpected relevance

They’re about the failure of newspapers and the dinosaurs in charge to comprehend the changes affecting them.  They’re about the arrogance — still — that they’re needed.

Journalism is needed.

Newspapers are not.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

How I know that newspapers are dead

After I started blogging in December about the onrushing death of the newspaper industry — as exemplified by the shrinkage, corporate-wise, of the Times-Dispatch and its parent, Media General — I continued to think about the topic a great deal. So much so, in fact, that I had the idea to write a proposal for a nonfiction book, which, after a week of writing, I sent to my agent.

She got back to me not long after that and told me, bluntly, that the book would never sell to a mainstream house.

Why not?

People aren’t buying newspapers today, she told me . . . so who would buy a book about newspapers?

While that fact is increasingly significant, I still thought it was a good idea. 48 million people read a newspaper every day, and that doesn’t count the millions of readers of a few thousand community weekly papers — and a large number of American who don’t read any papers at all, but are interested in business, the economy, futurism, and publishing.

I can try to get another agent who might believe in the book – hell, I got Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and NYT bestselling author Edna Buchanan to agree to write the foreword for me – but then I started thinking about a less traditional publishing route, where I could capitalize on publishing on the Web and stir up some viral word of mouth.

Yesterday I contacted Jeff Jarvis, the guy who wrote What Would Google Do? and who has a blog all about journalism, technology and the death/rebirth of news, and I asked for his advice — is there a venue on the Web where a book like this could be published, maybe week by week, and raise not only public interest, but some money? Is there a venue where a potential publisher could see it?

His response, like my agent’s, was brutally honest.

No. There isn’t a market for a book about a dying industry.

He had already tried to market a book of his own, and his publisher didn’t even want to hear about it.


If Jeff couldn’t sell his book, then what chance would I, a mere 14-year veteran of ad sales and marketing, ever have?

If you’re even remotely interested, the introduction is here. I based it on a blog post about the RTD ten months ago, but I’ve expanded it and opened it up, setting the stage for the rest of the now-dead book which was to be about the potential reinvention of the industry.

Here’s the title:



A Tough Love Guide to Kick Newspapers Off Their Brontosaurian Asses and Into the 21st Century . . . or Die

Oh well. Thank you anyway, Jeff — I appreciate your honesty.

So it’s time to put this project behind me and ramp it up with the novel. My agent wants rewrites, and I agree.

More than I ever wanted to admit, it’s time to cut. It’s time to sing.

It’s time to leave the past — and the dead — behind.

RTD takes a hint from Web forums

They’re adding guest columnists to the Times-Dispatch on Mondays. Not a bad experiment, actually — we can all judge if it works or not. Looks like they’ll be regular readers with regular points of view. Hmm.

They’re bolstering the line-up of regular RTD columnists, as well. All salaried employees, who will write an extra piece a week, but no extra pay.

I wonder if the guest columnists are gonna get paid for their work?


Here’s the story.

The Link Between "Star Trek" and the Newspaper Crisis

Actually, there are two links.

The first is in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. After the crew of the USS Enterprise time travels to 20th century San Francisco, Admiral James T. Kirk states: “They still use money. We’ll have to get some.”

If you’ve ever been curious about cash in the universe of Star Trek, this movie makes it clear that money isn’t used by the Federation. They don’t need it. In their 23rd century world of replicators, money is unnecessary — a holdover to the bygone eras of greed and corruption. Just ask any Ferengi.

The second takes place in the new Star Trek film which, as this article explains, traces its roots back to today’s economic, online and technological advances, and a theory by economist Paul Romer.

And just what does any of it have to do with newspapers — especially in light of today’s “discreet” meeting of newspaper execs to settle on ways and means to charge for their “intellectual” content?

To some people, the implications of Romer’s work are all too visible in the restructuring of the music industry and news business. Anything that can be digitally copied is nonrival and very difficult to exclude. So anyone whose job depends on the processing or delivery of information is feeling a great deal of stress right now about the difficulty of devising business models that thrive in a nonrival, nonexcludable operating environment.

Are we are at the beginning of an economic and worldwide adventure — a world without money?

As Spock would say, “Fascinating.”

Spock (Leonard Nimoy) clowns around with handcuffs and a gun. The newspaper headline reads “Spock Gets 2-Year Prison Term, Fine … for Anti-draft Activities” — referring to the June 1968 conviction of controversial pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock (the verdict was later reversed on appeal).

"Psst! Newspapers meeting in secret! Chicago! Today! Keep it on the down low!"

Despite the possibility of federal anti-trust violations, a day-long series of meetings are being held today outside Chicago, where the upper management of newspaper chains across the company are meeting to determine the fate of online news — that is, they’re trying to decide how best to start charging for content, and then, probably, how to spin it so they won’t end up looking like the greedy bastards they really are.

James Warren at The Atlantic broke the story here just this morning, and since it’s not exactly newsworthy in and of itself, I doubt you’ll find much mention of the confab out on the Web, and certainly it won’t be mentioned at all on television, due to the cataclysmic significance of Jon and Kate, their brood of precious snowflakes, what Michelle Obama is wearing, or Bill O’Reilley’s combover. And, by the way, Anna Nicole is still dead.

However, a meeting of top execs that has been kept, well, not secret, but certainly clandestine, which is not even mentioned on its host’s online calendar of events — it’s hosted by the Newspaper Association of America — is important to every journalist across the country, and to every newspaper employee.

It should be important to consumers, too, because the whole point of the meeting, apparently, is to figure out how to gouge you — I mean, us — out of more money. “Models to Monetize Content” is all about how to charge us for reading their stories on the ‘net. But that’s not enough: they want to go after aggregators for “stealing” their content — even though aggregators, such as Yahoo and Google, or one of my favorite sites, Fark, do not steal content — they link a headline on their site to the story on the newspaper’s site. In actuality, this creates traffic for newspapers . . . but media conglomerates are insistent that it’s stealing.


Because they want the revenue. All the revenue.

This isn’t about the next evolution of quality journalism.

It’s about greed. It’s about arrogance.

Monetizing and micropayments simply will not work. I love newspapers; I love the information. I’ll buy a newspaper when I want one. But their content is no longer interesting to me as an informed adult in the 21st century. It’s old-fashioned. It’s trite.

It’s boring. There. I said it.

And I will not pay a penny for their content online.

It ain’t worth it.

Content is king, and when newspapers realize their online content has to evolve to reflect the interests of readers in this day and age — not the 1960s — maybe then newspapers will become successful online.

Until then, the geriatric newspaper will continue to be a snoozefest. Hey, let me know how that lawn and garden section is working for ya, okay?


"Save the Newspaper!" Anonymous challenged

Today an anonymous reader left a message on a previous post, “Newspapers Still Ain’t Gettin’ It”:

In 10 words or less please describe what necessary changes newspapers need to make in order to survive.

Sorry, Khanonymous. I can’t do that.

I can do it in eleven:

Decrease circulation
Varied publications
Target niches
Hyperlocal content

In other words:

Metro-dailies are too damn big, from the size of management to their insane and unreasonable budgetary goals. Dailies today have to reflect the market, which is highly fragmented and, in this economy, rightly believes that newspapers are not worth their time or money.

So DECREASE CIRCULATION and go to a less expensive format: TABLOID.

Make it free: 100% ADVERTISER-SUPPORTED.

The base newspaper should focus 90% on HYPERLOCAL issues and stories. People ALL get their national news from the Internet and TV. You can’t fight it any longer.

To make up your losses, create niche publications to reach the entire circulation area. TARGET your demographic NICHES: boomers, parents, dining, arts — focusing content on whatever topics your CBSA values. Since people no longer value newsprint (it’s considered “poor,” make your new publications glossy and “upscale.”

This things are nothing new; I’ve been saying them repeatedly. The problem is, traditional newspapermen don’t want to hear them. To hand out a free paper is against the rules. To give people what they want to read — instead of stories the editors think they NEED to read — is against the rules. To shove management greed aside in order to fix the things that are broken??? Harumph, harumph! That’s against the rules!

In case you haven’t noticed, the rules no longer apply. Newspapers are old news. Now they have to evolve to survive, and that means breaking the old rules and adapting to the new ones.

It means completely changing.

I saw a book at Barnes & Noble just today. This is the product description (I copied it from Amazon) which struck me as I read the flaps in the store, because it describes what has happened to every single one of our great metropolitan newspapers:

Decline can be avoided.

Decline can be detected.

Decline can be reversed.

Amidst the desolate landscape of fallen great companies, Jim Collins began to wonder: How do the mighty fall? Can decline be detected early and avoided? How far can a company fall before the path toward doom becomes inevitable and unshakable? How can companies reverse course?

In How the Mighty Fall, Collins confronts these questions, offering leaders the well-founded hope that they can learn how to stave off decline and, if they find themselves falling, reverse their course. Collins’ research project–more than four years in duration–uncovered five step-wise stages of decline:

Stage 1: Hubris Born of Success

Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit of More

Stage 3: Denial of Risk and Peril

Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation

Stage 5: Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

By understanding these stages of decline, leaders can substantially reduce their chances of falling all the way to the bottom.

Great companies can stumble, badly, and recover.

Every institution, no matter how great, is vulnerable to decline. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top. Anyone can fall and most eventually do. But, as Collins’ research emphasizes, some companies do indeed recover–in some cases, coming back even stronger–even after having crashed into the depths of Stage 4.

Decline, it turns out, is largely self-inflicted, and the path to recovery lies largely within our own hands. We are not imprisoned by our circumstances, our history, or even our staggering defeats along the way. As long as we never get entirely knocked out of the game, hope always remains. The mighty can fall, but they can often rise again.

The Times-Dispatch is in Stage 4. Will it inevitably go into Stage 5, or will it adapt and survive?

Here’s the book: How the Mighty Fall.

Newspaper Death March…ON THE AIR!

Tom Racine, a friend of a friend whose mellifluous, baritone voice belongs in movie trailers (“In a world where . . .”), does a weekly podcast for his site, Tall Tale Radio. While his usual topics cover cartooning, comics and assorted entertainments, he interviewed me about the future of newspapers. Some of the things I mentioned have been covered in this very blog; but I hope, if you choose to listen, that I haven’t repeated myself too much, or been redundant or repetitive.

Damn! See? There I go.

Please have a listen to Episode 27. You can download it to your iPod or you can listen online. And please let me know what you think!

Click on the pic to be transported to Tall Tale Radio . . .

Newspapers Still Ain’t Gettin’ It

Friend and comics artist extraordinaire Coleen Doran sent me a link to a page of media news, and it caused me to realize that I haven’t railed lately about the stupidity inherent in the bloated and Jurassic newspaper industry.

This post, I hope, will remedy that situation.

Cartoon © Milt Priggee

That attitude pretty much sums up the general consensus in newspaper boardrooms across the country. Newspapers don’t want to evolve — instead they just want to make a few superficial and cosmetic changes — start charging higher prices, start charging for portions of the paper that used to be included with the paper (the tv section in the Times-Dispatch, for example) — and sit back and proclaim that they’ve changed with the times.

Not hardly. The times have already changed, the newspapers missed all the signs, and now the asteroid of evolution slamming hard into their tiny, insular planet with an unimaginable economic force.

The metro daily will not survive.

Here’s the link Colleen sent me, but the important points I’d like to mention are:

Swedish-based Metro International is selling off its network of US free papers, while keeping on operations in other countries:

Metro Int’s finance officer Anders Kronborg said the sale of the loss-making US operations was part of the company’s strategy to get through the economic and financial crisis.

This also includes the closure of Metro’s Spanish operations, announced in January, and savings made from relocating the company’s head office from London to Stockholm.

“I don’t see any growth in the market this year or in 2010,” Kronborg said. Meanwhile, Metro Int is focusing on Latin America, Asia and Russia, where the prospects for the advertising market are better than in the US and Europe.

So, they see no newspaper growth in the US until 2011.

Damn. That’s actually optimistic. I don’t expect holistic newspaper market growth until 2015, at least.

Then there’s William Randolph Hearst wannabe Rupert Murdoch:

remember how News Corp will make readers pay “handsomely” for online content? So what’s the plan? MICRO-PAYMENTS.

News Corp is planning to introduce “micro payments” for individual articles and premium subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal’s website, WSJ Managing Editor Robert Thomson said on Sunday.

“It’s a payments system — once we have your details we will be able to charge you according to what you read, in particular, a high price for specialist material,” Thomson said in an e-mailed response to Reuters questions.

Earlier the Financial Times said the move would be a milestone in the news industry’s search for better business models for online outlets and quoted Thomson as saying the micro payments service would launch this autumn.

Micropayments may actually work for the Financial Times and the WSJ, because they’re niche markets and the ones who read them — professionals — have the disposable cash — ie, the office will pay for it. But it’s been proven that micropayments won’t work for metro-daily newspapers online, nor will charging for subscriptions. (Take a look through some of my past posts about papers if you don’t believe me.)

Regular people will refuse to pay — and rightly so.

And while these masturbatory and pointless exercises are being frothed over in boardrooms, Sen. John Kerry has been hosting hearings in D.C. all about saving newspapers — although he has no idea how to save them, he knows trouble when he sees it:

Kerry said steps must be taken so that news media can stay diverse and independent, but he wasn’t sure what role government should play in those steps.

“As a means of conveying news in a timely way, paper and ink are less in vogue, eclipsed by the power, efficiency and technological elegance of the Internet,” Kerry said as he opened the hearing. “But just looking at the erosion of newspapers is not the full picture; it’s just one casualty of a completely shifting and churning information landscape.”

An evolving landscape:

“High-end journalism is dying in America and unless a new economic model is achieved, it will not be reborn on the Web or anywhere else,” [David] Simon said.

Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of The Huffington Post, a Web site of opinion and news, said that despite all the hand-wringing about the decline of the newspaper industry, these are good times for news consumers.

Huffington said the future of journalism is not dependent on the future of newspapers.

“No, the future is to be found elsewhere,” she said. “It is a linked economy. It is search engines. It is online advertising. It is citizen journalism and foundation-supported investigative funds. That’s where the future is.”

Sen. Kerry’s hometown newspaper, the Boston Globe, is owned by the New York Times Co. Both metro dailies have been going through massive problems, which were Kerry’s primary reasons for initiating the newspaper hearings. Now, after an infusion of cash from a Mexican investor, there’s breaking news out of Los Angeles: David Geffen wants a major stake in the NYT.

All I can make out of all of this is that chaos is rampant; change is not coming — it’s already here; and smart people will move the newspaper industry forward, making necessary changes, while the dinosaurs in the upper floors of most of the other metro dailies will just blink a lot in uncomprehending anger as their little worlds are torn apart by forces others have seen on the horizon for years.

Hey — can I borrow 50 cents for the TV section? Never mind — the listings are free on my tv . . . and on the Internet . . . and on my cell phone . . .

Straight Dope about the News

I love the newspaper column, The Straight Dope. I have the column’s first two books, but somehow I have failed to become a loyal follower online. That changes today, since I’ve now bookmarked it, due to the consideration of a reader of this blog who gave me a head’s up about a column predicting the future of newspapers (Thanks knoggin — I owe you one!).

Cecil, the writer and creator of The Straight Dope, is absolutely right about everything he says. I say that primarily because he says in this piece exactly what I have been saying for months: the future of the newspaper online is: