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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The day the music died

The newspaper business continues to collapse, with big chunks falling off this week. The Newhouse newspapers have announced that large numbers of staff people will have to take buyouts, or else. Apparently, or else what has not been announced in all cases, but today at the Newark Star-Ledger, they said they would sell the paper unless the news staff was cut by a third. No doubt a similar threat hangs over the O and all other Newhouse papers. (They also announced this week that they're closing their bureau in Washington, D.C.)

Meanwhile, there's serious trouble a-brewing at the Portland Tribune, where the paper version's been cut to a weekly and marching orders have been issued to pump out more material daily on the internet, but with fewer resources. Confirmation of some prominent personnel changes is reportedly just around the corner. (Indeed, the big one was made official this afternoon, but there is likely at least one more in the works.)

My first real job in this world was as a reporter for a Newhouse newspaper in New Jersey, The Jersey Journal (still there, but probably doomed now). I learned more about writing, and life in the real world, in that three-year period than at any other time in my life. It was during that time that I decided to get out to the West Coast, to see what was there, and to go to law school. The original plan was to stay media-connected -- either as a lawyer for journalists or as a journalist covering law. That program faded, but I never lost my affection for the men and women who deliver information to the public. As much as I may disagree with their editorial positions from time to time, it pains me to see them out of their jobs.

Who killed their industry? Bill Gates started it with his infernal computer in people's houses. Whoever got this World Wide Web thing going accelerated the process. After a while, the public decided it could get information delivered to their desks for "free" -- so long, of course, as they paid their monthly tribute to Comcast, Qwest, or AT&T. Paid newspaper readership has been on a steady decline after that change in attitude. Kids today are simply never going to subscribe to a newspaper.

But Craigslist was probably the real death knell. Without the huge nickel-and-dime revenue that the papers got from people selling houses, cars, and garage sale junk, and from people looking for employees or employment, suddenly you can't keep the lights on at a newspaper.

Other industries have it coming. Higher education is holding out, but it won't be able to do so forever. It may come after my career, but a lot of graduate school is going to be on the internet, like it or not.

This week, it's the newspaper folks hearing the bad news. My heart goes out to them and their families as they figure out what they are going to do next.

Comments (15)

Here's a webOnly Investigative Reporter who survives and thrives selling subscribers access at 30 bucks a year. One guy who gleans more news, (he says its the Rolodex), single-handedly than all of Newhouse's news in a year.

My contempt for newspapers wells from my familiarity. When I used to install computer systems in newspapers, it (and I) was responsible for ending the typographers union and laying off thousands of Press employees. I could accept that responsibility. I could not accept the publishers and editors who terminated the typographers and positions, offering no retraining, then gleefully mocking them and snickering lickspittle lips for the large 'performance bonus' for swinging the hatchet. While bosses and labor were literally neighbors in the community. Ha, instant karma gonna getcha. Good riddance to bad rubbish, (op)Pressed Rats and Warthogs -- close down the shop!

As for the Academe Industry future prospects of the Scientific-Technological Elite, (the other, forgotten danger to democracy, Eisenhower warned us is worse, in his Farewell speech with Military-Industrial Complex warning), well, probably (public or private) professorial pay grades are beholding to student tuitions. Freedom of Tuition was defunded in recent months, by Bushbutchery, and student enrollment already is decimated, and cratering.

Here: Pilfered Dreams: The Story of Student Loans and Sallie Mae, Dr. Kathy McMahon - Peak Oil Shrink blog, 25 Jul 2008.
The post you are about to read is a horror mystery, a tragedy, a calamity just about to happen. It is a story about young people who have been burdened with huge amounts of debt on the promise of a future career that will enable them to pay it off. They complete two or three years successfully at their chosen college, and can’t return in September, because they can’t find another year of student loan tuition funding. Suddenly, they have a debt of $50-100,000 and no way to complete the education that they’d hoped would secure them the job they’ll need to pay off that debt burden.

The pump and dump is now complete. -- What remains are empty holes in our pension funds, foreign investor’s portfolios, and private retirement funds, where a profitable stock used to be. Sallie Mae, a stock once courted less than a year ago by seven major bank willing to pay $60 a share, now sells in the mid- to low-teens. A company that once was praised for its innovation, administering more than $18 billion in college savings accounts for nearly 10 million customers, now bears junk bond status.

I can see the day when K-12 budget cuts force school districts to "unbundle" services and replace classroom teachers with computer programs or maybe even live feeds from teachers overseas who are paid a fraction of local salaries.
They'll be teaching the kids to pass the multiple choice tests and calling it education.
Yeah, it will also be harder to get the "first rough draft of history" on wood pulp. Those of us who prefer the coverage that way are dinosaurs.

Just this a.m. around 4:30 I heard the paperguy making his rounds. As ours hit the driveway I was pondering the eventual demise of the daily delivery. Guess I am 'old school' but I will never give up printed matter for internet. I enjoy both for different reasons. As an avid reader I crave the paper in hand. Thumbing through at leisure with morning cuppa. Nothing on a screen can compete.
To think some are predicting the day when books will cease being printed. That will be the day I go to the big library in the sky.

Some of the more useful publications, such as the Wall Street Journal and Barron's have been getting money from online subscribers for several years. And their subsciber base is growing as local dailies continue to shrink business and financial news. A perfect example is the all but useless business section the Oregonian publishes.

It's going to happen, but I will mourn the day that print newspapers go onto the technology junk heap.

I've been reading newspapers since I was six years old, starting with the comics, and advancing to sports, Dear Abby, and Art Buchwald. When I was a "paperboy" in Jr. high and high school, I got a thrill at reading the paper before the people on my route.

As an adult, when our kids were little, they knew not to bother dad on Sunday morning, or even TOUCH the Sunday paper, until dad was finished reading it. Yeah, I put reading the Sunday paper before my own children! (The only hour break I got all week to myself!)

I'm like a lot of newspaper junkies. Start the day early in the quiet of the morning. Cup of coffee. Paper sections lovingly folded and read one at a time. It's in my blood. Print newspapers forever!

Some things are just too good to die. Our print papers are having a rough time of it and for all the reasons listed. That doesn’t mean however they are going to give up and fold up. The on line world isn’t everything and becoming more cluttered with commercial stuff all the time. It gets more difficult doing any kind search for material without traversing mine fields of sales pitches, porno sites and phishing sites. Even Craigslist has limitations with all sorts of scams and treacherous behavior. Ten years ago everyone was saying that US Today was going to ruin the local papers and that didn’t happen either. Look, even vinyl is coming back, so dig out your turntable and listen to some of your old favorites while reading the Sunday forum page.

Some things are just too good to die.

Famous last words.

Newspapers are getting what they deserve. They all have their political agendas and God forbid anyone write a "Letter to the Editor" that goes against their agendas. They've caved. They've been bought. The days of "getting the daily scoop" are gone. Truth isn't in their vocabulary. They worry about printing the truth at the cost of advertising dollars. When is the last time you saw a newspaper who stood for something? Who took on the fight of the little guy? Nope...it's all gardening sections, entertainment, the God Almighty advertising buck..they've BEEN dead. It's just that no one called the "time of death".

All I need to know is who is going to maintain the comix list.

I gotta have my daily comix.

Too many rewrites of PR releases from their friends. Too many articles printed before the relevant facts were in (and checked)

I will miss the crossword puzzles.

These comments (up to Jack's "Famous last words." comment) are just that... the last words of a near dead institution.

Is it sad? Yes, in some ways. Like the venerable buggie whip. Whose crying now? Nobody.

As for schools, can they be improved by advancing technology? Obviously not. America has the world's best edu system. Only other industries can benefit from new technology. The Edu system is different. Blah blah blah. (end of sarcasm).

The Newspaper indsutry will continue to shrink, and it'll evolve.

And so will the schools. Just like in class Professors have mostly been replaced by lower priced grad student TAs (regarding classroom instruction), so too will that evolve, and computers and even cheaper labor will be part of that equation.

Life moves on... so whould you.

I used to love getting and reading the newspaper everyday. It was given up for 1 reason only, the news in it was old long before it was printed. The paper would arrive full of stories 2-4 days old and sometimes well over a week old. They didn't even try to keep up with the internet. If the stories were only 1 day old I would probably still be getting it.

...they've BEEN dead. It's just that no one called the "time of death".

You nailed it, Pam.

My concern is, how are people going to find out what's really going on in government after all the investigative reporters have been laid off? Blog sites like this one can (and do) fill part of the void, but let's face it, most blogs don't have the circulation and influence of the big newspapers, and most bloggers don't have the time to investigate and evaluate complex governmental programs.

Yes, I know that many newspapers have already severely cut back on their investigative reporting to avoid offending their big advertisers (which include some government agencies). However, even rather lame newspapers like the Oregonian occasionally produce some very insightful articles that expose wrongdoing, incompetence and ineffectiveness.

Let's hope the better newspapers survive the Internet Age.

Other industries have it coming. Higher education is holding out, but it won't be able to do so forever.

I heard that. The GM at my office, who is no dummy, is getting his MBA online. When he told me this a while back, I had a hard time holding back a smirk. After he explained how the online program works, and what he is required to do in the program, the urge to smirk left me.

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