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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fade to black

We got our first free copy of the O on the front porch this morning. We haven't held one of those in our hands for years. Our impression? It's small. Really small. Like a miniature cartoon drawing of what it once was.

The front section contained two pages of locally produced content. There were four stories that started on page 1 and jumped to page 4. It was all local news on the front page. The rest of the section was wire copy, paid obituaries, ads (a full-pager for false teeth, but surprisingly few others, including a telltale half-page house ad), and filler. To still be running a full page of weather when there's so little news is a sad statement.

The Metro/Business/Opinion section was eight pages, and here again only two pages' worth was locally produced news content. The business pages didn't seem to have any local content at all. There were no local columnists anywhere to be seen, either, other than the unnamed editorial writers. There was only one ad in the whole section, about 1/12 of a page, for a gout pain study.

The Sports/Classified section (eight pages) had three local stories: one Blazers, one Timbers, one U of O football. Display ads on the sports pages totaled about a third of a page. Classified was two and a half pages. A full-page ad for Fry's brought up the rear.

The Living section, six pages, had two and a half local stories, and about a tenth of a page of paid advertising.

Stuck in the middle of the whole package, which still comes in a plastic bag, were inserts for hearing aids, Big 5 Sporting Goods, and New Seasons Markets.

For this they want you to pay? It's really sad to see this happen, but the daily local newspaper is going the way of the phone book. It is so over.

Comments (25)

Every year, I try to save up as much vacation time as I can for the end of the year, and then I take off for the entire week after Christmas. That week is spent cleaning and clearing the house, as my wife is at work, everyone who might distract me is off somewhere else, and I can set huge piles of crap in the living room for a week without complaint. It's a great opportunity to shovel through old magazines, unneeded books, and all of the general paper detritus that piles up without your realizing it. Last year was so productive that not only did I get my tax records cleaned up, but I cleaned out boxes that I'd been dragging from apartment to house to house since 1986. Oh, my wife was happy, especially when we found all of the bills my ex dumped into boxes in the hope that they'd go away if she couldn't see them.

Anyway, as a holdover from my writing days, I opened several boxes full of papers and magazines from immediately before and after my move from Portland in 1997. Among other things, I came across the Christmas 1996 issue of Rolling Stone, several weeklies from both Portland and Dallas, and several copies of the Oregonian that had just been packed up during the frantic last days of the move. I had to stop and go through some of these for a while, because these were huge compared to today's. Most weeklies today are so bereft of content that the Village Voice Media papers are saddle-stapled so they don't fall apart in your hands, but one copy of the Dallas Observer from 1998 was up to 96 pages. Same deal with Willamette Week.

The thing that struck me, though, was that the papers and magazines weren't as full of content as I thought. It's just that the main revenue-makers were what took up most of the room. These days, the print edition of Rolling Stone might as well be on microfiche, but fifteen years ago, the typical issue was big enough to roll up and use to brain cattle. Precious little of that was actual content, as in articles or reviews that mattered. (For the sake of argument, I'll leave the discussion as to whether or not any review in RS actually mattered, and how many of these reviews were printed solely for the benefit of record labels brown-nosing Jann Wenner, for others.) Besides the classified ads for vintage record sellers, the vast majority of ads were for record clubs, book clubs, early promos to convince people to check out primitive Web sites (where all of the content on the site was already in the ad), and lots and lots of liquor ads. So much of that "content" is quaint today, as the Web destroyed the market and even the entire purpose of the advertiser.

This was also the case for the weeklies (hey, anybody want to go to Borders?), especially with the death of the personal ads section in the days of eHarmony and Craigslist. What really struck me, though, was how bereft the dailies were. I remembered the Oregonian circa 1997 as being a pretty damn good paper, all things considered, with a lot of local content. Heh. Far too much, even back then, was wire reports, and most of the local content in the features sections consisted either of butt-kissing local advertisers, freelancers trying to convince credulous readers that four people following a fashion was a "trend", and staff writers running vendettas on just about anybody who didn't pay them proper obsesiance. So much for that Golden Age of journalism.

What finally struck me wasn't how much of the print paper had been replaced by the Web, but why. Classifieds had gone to Craigslist, sure, but you don't have new possibilities, either. If you want comics, you can go to GoComics or any number of independently created Webcomics, the vast majority of which are better than the dinosaur bones offered by newspaper syndicates. (If every last paper on the planet disappeared, would the syndicates still grunt out "The Family Circus" and "Garfield," I wonder?) Freelancers can take their best stuff directly to their blogs, where they can at least rest assured that some petulant editor doesn't rewrite two-thirds of it, screw up the facts, and let the writer hang in the wind when readers complain. If you're burning to write, and burning to change things, why would you want to dedicate your time these days to a system that is now as hidebound and obsolete as land line phones?

For years, I joked that the main readership of the Dallas Morning News consisted of little old ladies still waiting for their grandsons to come back from the Battle of Manassas Junction, and that's not too far from the truth. With papers everywhere, the signs of needed change were out there for nearly 20 years, and papers were already on a decline since the Eighties, when CNN showed that television news didn't have to be limited to two hours every evening and the weekly 60 Minutes burst. The only thing that's surprising is exactly how badly newspaper publishers refused to take complaints under consideration and assume that readers would continue to flock to them because the readers didn't have a choice. Now, other than for nostalgia or masochism, why the hell would the readers bother to come back?

Going back over that, I sure have a thing for "struck by," don't I? I really need to stop freebasing Preparation H.

Is the freebie sample copy of The O the same as the actual daily. or is it just bits and pieces?
The large amount of wire copy in the old daze papers, by the way, was a point of pride. By actual count The O carried more foreign, and I think national news. of any paper in the West except for the LA Times.
In the pre-net days, people stood and waited Saturdays for early copies of the Sunday paper to get a jump on the apt ads. Builders complained the paper charged too much for ads, but added that The O was the only way to sell a house.
I have no idea what would keep a daily paper alive. The failure of Newsday a few years back showed great reporting wouldn't do it, as the NYT struggles to do today.
But unlike a lot of commentators I see here and elsewhere, I miss a good daily. By my visual surveys of bus passengers, people stopped reading the O well before everybody was on the net. When nearly every morning commuter carried a paper 30 years ago, fewer and fewer did 20 years ago. One of the last times I checked the No 9 crowd a few years ago
, only a couple were reading the paper, a couple more were reading books and the rest of the riders were listening to earphone music or just staring into space.

The O, newspapers, and the invisible ink of the 21st century. But, in some very important ways, especially for posterity: it's not a good thing. In some ways, the "newspaper" industry and the coal industry have a lot in common. Make that two: they're both run by ddumba$$es.

Just wait until you get the paper dart they call the Monday Oregonian

I joined the newspaper biz in the mid-90s when things were still good and the Internet was a mere curiosity.

I vividly remember an editor of mine, when I suggested we have a web page, saying that "the Internet is a fad." No BS.

I left the business of my own free will when I watched a newsroom go from 10 people down to one over the course of my 15 year career.

Long form journalism is dying, and I think that is sad for anyone who cares about accurate accountability of government.

But let's be honest, the newspaper industry did this to themselves. For decades they were the only game in town, and many simply haven't adapted to the changing nature of technology.

The world doesn't need "gatekeepers of information" when information is free and at your fingertips.

niceoldguy: Jack's description of the paper today is spot-on.

As for the paper, it's ads that keep the newspaper operation running; no ads, little or no paper. The subscriptions simply cover the costs of the raw paper and its delivery.

As for why people would want to work for a paper instead of writing for their own blog: they want a paycheck. Few know how to make money from a blog. Not impossible; just hard - you need a benefactor, sponsor, subscribers, and/or advertising if you want to earn a living blogging. (I seem to recall that this website's owner does have a day job)

I get three daily papers: Oregonian, WSJ, and the NY Times. WSJ seems to have more than the usual heft, and the NY Times is a bit lighter than usual for the National Edition. My travels to NYC demonstrate to me that it is still quite large in the Metro area, with several sections that aren't in the National edition.

The full content of the WSJ and the NY Times are behind a paywall, so being a subscriber does give me full access to the archives.

One recent benefit is that out here west of Beaverton the same carrier delivers all 3 papers onto my doorstep each morning, sometimes as early as 4:30am. For years, only the WSJ and the NY Times did that, while I had a long trek out to the street to get the Oregonian from the newspaper tube. Somehow the 3 papers figured out some economies by sharing the delivery duties.

Why get the print edition when I can get most of the news from the Internet? Easy...the newspaper format is just so much more convenient for many things, like ads, features, and for general perusing. The internet is great if you know what you are looking for. With a newspaper, there is a bit of serendipity each day.

The subscriptions simply cover the costs of the raw paper and its delivery.

Back in my newspaper days (40 years ago now), subscriptions paid for the editors and writers; advertising paid for everything else.

the newspaper format is just so much more convenient for many things, like ads, features, and for general perusing.

I've gotta say, today I found the paper version to be kind of awkward. It's all what you're used to, I think. And I'm past the newspaper habit. I have an iPhone and a Kindle.

There was little or no content in the paper that could not be found easily on line. I had already seen most of the headlines in the print edition several hours before on my computer.

And there were hardly any ads -- certainly none that interested me. I have all my teeth, already know where to go if I want a hearing aid, and don't do grocery store coupons.

Now, with Willamette Week, the ads are definitely worth picking up the dead tree version for. Upcoming concerts in particular. And in the very back you can meet a nice young lady to come over and glaze your ham.

The Merc I wouldn't touch without latex gloves.

Is the freebie sample copy of The O the same as the actual daily. or is it just bits and pieces?

I think what I got today was the whole shebang.

I wouldn't be happy to see daily journalism go down the tubes. But printing the news out on large sheets of paper and driving the paper sheets around in the middle of the night to put them on people's porches? That number's up.


I do get most of my news on my computer or smartphone, but for whatever reason, what I get in the papers is the serendipity - I read things I would not normally see in the daily reading of my RSS feeds. That is the value of the papers for me, escape from the normal news and rhetoric.

I discover all sorts of odd and interesting stuff in RSS feeds. Give me some examples of what you mean.

What is kind of interesting is that the daily paper seems to be dying yet magazines and "the Daily Shopper" seem to keep growing.

Also, can someone send the "death of print" message" to all my local govt agencies who don't seem to mind wasting several pounds a month of paper mailed to me and addressed Occupant? Between comm coll catalogs and monthly newspapers on how great my city council / water bureau and so on are doing, it irks me how much I have to throw away into landfills.

I would hate to see newspapers disappear - I don't care if the paper versions fade away as long as I can read everything online, but people seem to think all online content should be free. Not sure how they think papers can pay their reporters if that's the case. I pay for a NY Times digital subscription & think it's well worth the $$$.

Once I started reading the WSJ, it made the O feel like a waste of time. We still get the weekend papers, but I dont't feel like I'm missing anything that I can't get on the 11:00 news. It's all bits and pieces - rarely a thoughtful piece with any coherence and depth. The one that as annoying as a boulder in my shoe was the piece about section 8 renters being "locked out" of the "riches" of Lake O and West Linn. It was such an overly sentimental and biased piece it felt like a high school exercise in how to write propaganda, but certainly not objective journalism. Everyone wants to be an opinion writer these days, right out of college. Even the older ones like Steve Duin are sounding like old bulls that just like to hear their own roar. Sensationalism does not replace objective news or investigative reporting. When they go back to that.....

But printing the news out on large sheets of paper and driving the paper sheets around in the middle of the night to put them on people's porches?

That gets at the central truth of what a paper is: a snapshot of the world as it existed at around midnight last night. By 1am, it is obsolete. If you want an updated version of the story on the front page, you have to go to the website. So...why not just go right to the website? It's a sad thing to witness--I have a number of friends working for newspapers, and their Facebook feeds are full of angst and dismay at one mass firing after another. Yes, technology brings new development, and renders old forms of communication obsolete. I'm not so sure that the replacement for papers, however, is better.

Jack asked: "I discover all sorts of odd and interesting stuff in RSS feeds. Give me some examples of what you mean"

I find lots of interesting things in my RSS feeds, too.

And so do the papers. Sometimes it is a picture; sometimes it is a headline that catches my attention. There is a perception difference for me when I can scan the broadsheet with my eyes and find something interesting; perhaps a food item; perhaps a gadget. Perhaps an illustration accompanying an op-ed. With most RSS readers, you get some text, ad perhaps the first few sentences.

It's probably just me. I do use RSS via Google Reader everyday for most of my reading, picking and choosing depending on what is in the headline. When I scan the newspaper pages, it is simply a different process for me. So I guess layout and placement does affect what I read.

Call me old school, but I still prefer the print edition for reasons that have nothing to do with journalism. There's something about the tactile feel of the paper in your hands and the control over the viewing that I like. Paired with a cup or two of good coffee and a comfortable chair, it's a relaxing part of my morning that can't be duplicated on a laptop or mobile device.

The print media really seems to think of itself as an important "gatekeeper of information". The insult in that concept may be an important component in their down turn. CNN seems to have falling into the same myopic phase.

So...why not just go right to the website?

Perhaps what is keeping the subscription going are people especially elders who do not want to deal with computers.

I have noticed that when I see a paper elsewhere, I agree there is something to viewing an actual paper, seeing at a glance the overall view. In the same way that sitting and reading a book would be preferable.

I was given a subscription to the whOregonian as a gift and I eventually got to the point where I'd just open the paper, cut out the crosswords, and toss the rest.

When the year was up, they kept sending me papers for free, but I hated the fact they were padding their circulation numbers by giving me a free paper so I called them up and asked them to stop giving me free papers.

Just as bad: I went to check out an article on their website (the arbitration on Chasse) and got not one, not two, but THREE pop-ups. Craptastic. The Oregonian has officially gone clown-shoes.

Haha...they must be in desperation mode. I had one of their papers on my porch this morning, too. I hope they don't keep bringing them.

Sad maybe...I'm 33, at least somewhat in touch with the world and have never bought a news paper.

reformedreporter: "I joined the newspaper biz in the mid-90s when things were still good and the Internet was a mere curiosity. ... an editor of mine ... saying that 'the Internet is a fad.'"

I programmed and installed computer OCR systems in several newspapers in 1971,72. Some of my 'famous' customers: Providence Journal Bulletin (oldest consecutively-published daily in U.S., since 1847?), San Diego Union-Tribune, San Antonio Express & Light (name since changed); uh, anyone ever heard of Battle Creek Enquirer? Yakima Herald-Republic? ... been there done that

At THAT time I was telling editors and publishers I met that they better hire computer-skilled people in-house or else their newspaper plantation would be swept away by the flood force of digital developments. They all called me kooky and incoherent.

Except the Typographers Union, the victims extincted by my work. The typographers I met called me 'scary' and 'scum' and (no BS) put shotgun blast holes in the night in my computer equipment.

I went from that job the next year to another job at Harvard U working on a very teeny tiny small piece of coding the internet (DARPAnet), which included team meetings filled with Big Picture discussions of future prospects and extents of this 'global network' thang ... all us info-democracy gnomes in the undermining (of traditional elitism via privileged information), we talked funnytalk like that there 'thang'. Yes, I wrote the internet; about 5 lines of code as I recall, but I don't recall which 5 ... so sue me.

( ... skipping over many years, er, decades of related stuff ... ) Here's the point where we newspaper-rememberers have come to:
The Death of Quality Local News: Why I Blew the Whistle on Journatic's Practices ~ I went public about my experience at Journatic because people should know how their local newspapers are being hollowed out, by Ryan Smith, Guardian/UK, July 2012

Also here: How A Right-Wing Group Is Infiltrating State News Coverage, July 11, 2012, JOE STRUPP, MediaMatters blog

But, hey, the newspapers (and broadcasters) did as they were told and assigned -- fell on their sword to suppress and cover-up Nine-Eleven Op (by Bushes) -- even though forsaking credibility and truth-telling, betraying their readers, subscribers and advertisers, meant then they were dead behind their paper front of potemkinUSA.

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