There’s been quite a bit of dismay and hand-wringing in the media world since the daily newspaper in New Orleans, the Times-Picayune, announced it was cutting its print edition to only three days a week. The bottom line is, like many other newspapers, they no longer have enough readers to allow them to charge advertisers the kind of prices that justify printing the paper every day. The staff (which has been reduced as revenue dropped) will continue to report the news all week via the paper’s website, but readers will have to go get it instead of it being delivered to them.
Yesterday, there was a rally to support keeping the 7-day print edition, which drew all of 300 people. There were more people than that at my daughter’s high school when she performed in “Diary of Anne Frank.” I’d be willing to bet that a portion of the rally-goers were folks who like the idea of a daily newspaper, but don’t actually subscribe to it themselves.
In St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch is likely to take this same route, and we’ll hear the same moaners and teeth-gnashers decrying the loss of a beloved institution. They’ll ignore the fact that the P-D is already more a pamphlet than a newspaper, and rarely qualifies as a must-read, even online. I just scanned the stories on its website and didn’t find one item interesting enough to make me click on it.
Truth is, most local news is worthless, whether it’s in print or broadcast. I recently had a discussion with a local radio manager, in which I said that there’s no need for that station to do newscasts outside of morning drive because there isn’t anything going on that’s worth the time. It’s not like they have a full-time news-gathering organization that’s breaking stories and investigating corruption every day. Most radio news operations consist of one person scanning the wires and other news sources (local TV, websites, etc.) and then re-purposing that content on the air. Their newscasts consist of lots of police-blotter stories and minor political squabbles that affect exactly none of their listeners. Anyone who wants to know “what’s happening now” can find it elsewhere.
What’s really sad about the demise of newspapers is that it’s their own fault for giving it away for free online in the first place. The concept was to sell advertising for the online edition which would replace revenue lost from decreased print subscriptions. But advertisers aren’t willing to shell out the same amount of money for internet-only compared to the hard copies, so revenue hasn’t shifted from one distribution method to the other. Newspapers needed to charge online readers for their product from day one, before we all got used to getting any information we want for nothing.
Some papers are figuring out ways to cut down on free access while increasing online revenue, but it’s a tricky dance to perform without losing readers. The worst part of this bad economic model is all the employees who are being squeezed out of the big dailies and finding few places to continue their careers in an industry that’s teetering on the precipice.
It’ll take more than 300 people at a rally to change that.
I’ll have more on this subject tomorrow.