In the past two months almost 4,000 jobs have vanished at US newspapers.
The lay offs - including many editorial positions - have ranged from the Honolulu Advertiser to the Hollywood Reporter to the Baltimore Sun. Even the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have not escaped. It's been dubbed The Midsummer Massacre.
One of the earliest casualties was The Tampa Tribune in Florida which, along with its sister broadcasting station, lost 110 positions, almost ten per cent of its staff, including at least 50 in the newsroom. The cut back in staff almost matched the amount of revenue that was down in the second quarter of this year.
The Washington Post reduced its newsroom staff by more than 12 per cent of the total - more than 100 jobs. Other big cuts have occured at USA Today (50 jobs), the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News (150 jobs) plus 55 layoffs at four newspapers in New Jersey.
At the Honolulu Advertiser last week 54 of the staff were laid off. Even small papers like the Hartford Courant (57 jobs) and the Orlando Sentinel (50 jobs) have suffered.
The Wall Street Journal, the latest acquisition of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is cutting 50 jobs to consolidate some of its news and feature departments.
USA Today reported a 36% drop in its advertising revenue last week. Newspapers are in survival mode until they figure out the market - and it's not an easy thing. Some sort of online and print market are likely the answer, but they have yet to figure what that mix is and how to make it pay.
Then there's the simple fact that the cost of producing a printed sheet is skyrocketing. Newspapers across the country are cutting web sizes in a cost cutting move as paper and other raw materials rise along with fuel.
And as I mentioned in my previous post about taxing the rich, the fastest way to effect the bottom line in any company is through a reduction in head count. That, it appears, is exactly what is happening.
So what is the new model that will work for newspapers? Most think it has to do with an emphasis on local news and only a passing swipe at international and national news.
Let's face it, for the most part the international and national news you read in your morning paper is old news - news you heard about or read about online or through a cable news channel.
But what happened at the local council meeting, or following up on that local corruption story are things, in many cases, which are only written about or followed up in depth by a newspaper.
That is where they are turning (and it is also why small newspapers who have always focused on local news aren't having the depth of problems the larger newspapers are having). An indicator of what is changing from Howard Kurtz:
Nearly two-thirds of the papers surveyed by the Project for Excellence in Journalism have cut back on space for foreign news at a time when America is fighting two wars. Nearly half say they are devoting fewer resources to covering such stories; the Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun have closed their remaining overseas bureaus in the past three years. A mere 10 percent say foreign news is "essential."
National news hasn't fared much better, with 57 percent of newspapers saying they have cut the space devoted to such issues. More than a third have reduced business coverage. Science and arts reporting is also shriveling. All this, says the project, "reduces the marketplace of ideas."
On the rise: a 62 percent jump in community news and a 49 percent rise in state and local news — especially in education — where papers are arguably the most indispensable. Ninety-seven percent of editors at the 259 papers surveyed called local news "very essential" to their product.
Not only are newspapers strong in education, but local government, local community, and local events. News of national or international events has become a commodity free for the googling. But local news has fewer outlets and thus has a value that people are still willing to pay for. Those papers who are figuring this out and concentrating there will pull out of this in decent shape. And once they figure out the online/print model and how to make them pay sufficiently, that too will stop the rapid decline newspapers are now experiencing.
But their world has changed forever, there's no question of that. Those that are able to figure out how that change is manifesting itself and again are able to bring value in their news to the customer will still be here in future years to carry on their tradition of journalism.
Myself I consider taking a stab at personalized print editions. Subscribers would be able to roughly specify the number of stories they wanted to see in any category—sports, local news, world news, comics, coupons, whatever—delivered to them every day. I would charge more, perhaps even by the page. My first ad campaign would probably say "No electricity or wi-fi required; and you won’t have a cow if it gets stolen."
Of course I’d probably epic fail, but what the hey, it would be worth a shot...
That’s not a bad idea and one which is quite possible with an online edition (build your own homepage).
One of the things I’ve seen newspapers = larger newspapers = do is put more emphasis in zone editions or as one calls it "community editions" which carries news specific to that community. It has actually helped increase their circulation at a time when circulations are headed down.
I think we should also note that many of the newspapers limit their readership by slanting news articles and producing a stream of far left editorials.
My newspaper, the Palm Beach Post, is about as left as they get. In a county which is probably 60-40 Democratic, it is still a mistake to dismiss 40% of your potential readers. For a long time, newspapers have attempted to have a firewall between the business and the news/editorial staff. But, how long can that continue is the face of these declines? The Post recently reduced head count by about 300 people. I was going to let my subscription lapse, but I did renew for 6 months. I don’t want them to go out of business. I just want them to be a little more up the middle. There is not a single conservative on the editorial board.