Another Nail in the Coffin

Photo: Tonie AuerBy Tonie Auer
DFW Chapter President/National Blog Chairwoman

Some days I feel like the dinosaurs I remember instructing me in college. I refer fondly to my old J-school professors as the men who shaped me and guided me in my career as a daily newspaper reporter. I started out my career for a small five-day-a-week evening daily in northeast Texas. We used VDTs and I had to size photos, count headlines and literally cut and paste galleys. *Ed. note: younger folks, refer to your journalism history books to understand these terms.*

I remember when my newspaper in West Texas got a website and started trying to determine how they would post content and still make money. It seems like yesterday, but also a million years ago. And, it was just another nail in the coffin of print journalism.

Yes, this old-timer who refuses to only get her news content online is saying it. I must have the feel of newsprint in my hands to feel like I'm getting the whole story. The gal who listens to Paul Conley, nods her head, but still refuses to get Internet/email connectivity on her cell phone - that girl is the one who is truly, finally admitting it: print journalism may, indeed, be dying.

I was shocked to read that the Detroit Free Press plans to change the way it does things in the spring. Gone will be daily delivery of the paper. Ok, well, reduced is a better word. Instead of a daily paper waiting on your doorstep each morning, you'll now have to log on and get your news. Except on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.


Call me old-fashioned, but this is sad news to me. I love having the portability of a newspaper, the in-depth details you don't get from the 30-second spot on the broadcast news. I just don't see how you can get that from the palm of your hand on your Iphone. It just isn't the same. That's it. It just isn't the same.

I know pretty much every news outlet is changing how they do things. So, what does it all mean for journalism and for B2B pubs? Well, you guys know what it means. You're the ones doing it and experiencing it. Is it as hard for you as it is for me?

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This isn't really a landmark event. It's another step in the newspaper industry's three-year death spiral. Newspapers are dead for many, many reasons, and only one of them is their ridiculous refusal to adapt to new digital realities. Although newspapers share some qualities with other kinds of print publications, they are unique. Their demise does not signal the imminent disappearance of all print media. But the lesson B2Bs can take is, don't stick your head in the sand and pretend the world isn't changing. It has changed and it will continually change. B2B publications and all businesses must constantly change to remain viable. That means real changes to the entire business model. Not just cosmetic, "let's add a blog" or "let's do a bad video interview" changes.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : December 18, 2008 at 2:42 PM
I'm still in awe of journalists who refuse to learn digital media.

Forget the fact that your company won't train you or pay for training. Learn it yourself and do something with it.

Journalists also can't afford to not take the time to learn digital media either.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : December 19, 2008 at 7:45 AM
I agree that journalists can ill afford to ignore the social media revolution and other digital media realities. Yes, it's hard to change but it's important to our survival, so important, I write a blog article on the Society of American Business Editors and Writers blog, "Talking Biz News", every Monday about business journalists and newsrooms learning to accept these new realities (and how to go about adapting to them) lest they die as agonizing a death as newspapers seem to be.

And,in all honesty, I get most of my news on blogs, online newsrooms and cable television. So, this isn't as painful for me as a reader as it is as a professional journalist. I'm really having to rethink my career and, particularly as a freelancer, begin to offer other skills to prospective writing clients to make a living.

Dahna Chandler
ASBPE Member
# posted by Blogger Unknown : December 19, 2008 at 8:51 AM
So much is happening to newspapers. AP is laying off staff and losing customers. CNN and Politico are trying to compete with AP. Newspapers in Ohio and other states may be forming their own associated networks. And on and on.

One thing I have yet to see discussed is the one niche that local daily newspapers fail miserably to grab. It's quite shocking actually. That niche is LOCAL NEWS. Pick any metro daily and I bet you they do a lousy job of covering their metro area. Just ask yourself why there is not a story about city hall EVERY DAY.

Here's the answer for them: Eliminate ALL international and national news, even sports, except when it can be directly and pointedly localized. Otherwise, only cover local news. No one else in the country should be able to cover local news like the existing local dailies and weeklies.

If you want national sports, national politics, national business news and analysis, get it somewhere else: TV, Internet, magazines, NY Times, Wall St. Journal, USA Today.

In addition, they need to get the Net. If they exclusively cover local stuff, with more investigative pieces and analyses, they will generate a must-read. And they will have a better chance of building social communities and other digital products that can make them money.

As for your iPhone, right now I see it best used to provide only headline news. Of course, there will still be people who want to read a lot on their cell phone and therefore will make their opticians rich.

Robin Sherman
Editorial & Design Services

Look for me on LinkedIn:
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : December 19, 2008 at 9:55 AM
Robin - I wholeheartedly agree about the local papers. I don't read my daily for the latest national and international news. I read it for what is going on with my planning and zoning or the schools and university news. I use the Internet news sources for the big picture stuff.

And, you all have touched on many good points. Just like any industry - you must adapt or you'll get phased out. Plain and simple. I'm amazed at how blogging has broadened my opportunities in freelancing. It is actually a skill for me now and I'm amazed.

We will be dinosaurs if we don't evolve. Painful as that may be.
# posted by Blogger Tonie Auer : December 21, 2008 at 11:29 PM
This interview with NewspaperDeathWatch's Paul Gillin is pretty interesting. Re: community newspapers -- he notes that many are being shut down, but are being replaced by web sites started by individuals.

# posted by Blogger Martha Spizziri : December 22, 2008 at 9:27 AM
Here's a surprise: Contrary to most of what we've been hearing about everything heading away from print and toward the web, this article from The New York Observer says several magazines are laying off web writers -- in some cases, it seems, pretty much the entire web editorial staff. The magazines mentioned are all consumer magazines, though.

Still, what really stunned me was the statement by a senior editor who works for Wenner Media said that s/he had never heard anyone in editorial there at the senior-editor level or higher talk about the web. And the article quotes Jann Wenner in Advertising Age as saying “The print reader’s worth a whole lot more [than the online reader].”
# posted by Blogger Martha Spizziri : December 22, 2008 at 6:29 PM
I think Robin hits the nail on the head. Whether you do it in print or online or both, you have to be selling something compelling. Recycled content from the Associated Press, et al, and pointless features don't attract readers.

Lots of ads and lots of local news sell papers. Over the last 20 years, newspaper companies have hacked away at both ad staffs and news staffs until they've gotten to the point that there aren't any ads from small merchants and all of the large merchants have moved to inserts, which are a lot less profitable for a newspaper.

Craigslist is OK, but it's not wonderful. If newspapers hadn't priced themselves out of the game, Craigslist would never have been a factor.

I pay $59/year for, which is nothing more than a service directory with user reviews. Why didn't newspapers do that?

They didn't do it or much else that was very creative in the last 20 years because it cost money to hire young talented people and retain older experienced people. Newspapers cut, cut, cut. And now there's nothing left.

Almost no newspaper anywhere is really covering local government or schools or local business or cops and courts. And no ad salespeople are knocking on doors and helping retailers get through this challenging time.

I live in Detroit. If the Detroit Newspapers, which also own the local Observer-Eccentric group, assigned a strong reporter to every half-dozen schools in the Detroit suburban areas and one cop reporter to each town, a handful of court reporters to district courts, and a dozen reporters to really cover local business trends, including real estate. And then put ad salespeople on the street with incentives to sell, I don't think there's any question that they could create a product that people would buy -- online or off.

# posted by Blogger Unknown : December 31, 2008 at 11:06 AM
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