Newspapers are not dead yet, they have just forgotten how to be newspapers
March 12, 2009 1 Comment
In an article about the demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, as well as other prominent newspapers leaving their cities as one-newspaper towns, the New York Times continues the industry doomsaying with a prediction of no-newspaper towns.
But even in this incredibly pessimistic piece, the Times stumbles across the great truth, but still somehow misses the main point:
The Tribune Company, for instance, owner of The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and other papers, filed for bankruptcy in December, largely because of its debt load. The reality is that even though the economic climate is hard for newspapers, without their debt payments the publishers in bankruptcy would still make money, as do most newspapers around the country.
Now the outlook is by no means good, as the next couple paragraphs point out, but the general problem is not the business model itself, but the fact that it was being run by greedy screwheads who just kept gobbling up all the little profitable city papers and lumping them under one giant multi-national media empire run not by newspaper people, but bean counters more interested in lining their pockets and keeping the giant beast fed.
So they trimmed the newsroom and started sharing content among the whole chain. No need for every paper to cover an event when one guy can do it for the whole company.
Then, with the total homogenization of news and the newspapers’ fear of television, combined with the constant attempt to copy the TV news style of more headlines with less news, readers began to realize that their paper offered them very little that they couldn’t get from other sources.
When newspaper people stopped running the industry, the newspapers lost focus and forgot how to be newspapers.
Coverage drives everything. Make your paper something people feel they need to read and they will. Provide the same crap they can get anywhere else and they will go elsewhere.
Yes, it is tough times and newspapers need to slim down. But on average, according the the article, newspapers still have a 10 percent profit margin, despite the way the second half of the sentence make sit seem:
But profits are shrinking fast; taken together, major chains had an operating profit margin of about 10 percent in 2008, down from more than 20 percent as recently as 2004, according to research by John Morton, an independent analyst.
That’s not bad, really. The oil industry makes less than that and they milk it harder than most.
The average net profit margin for the S&P Energy sector, according to figures from Thomson Baseline, is 9.7%. The average for the S&P 500 is 8.5%. So yes, energy companies are more profitable than many others…but not by an inordinate amount.
Then how can that not be enough to keep a goddamn newspaper afloat?