Monday, November 20, 2006

Another bleak prediction

From a journalism professor and contributor to He says:

It's become accepted that the younger you are, the less apt you are to be a regular reader of newspapers. That's been an escalating trend since back in the 1960s, but only recently has it begun to affect newspaper advertising seriously. This trend was demonstrated yet again last week when the New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT) released its revenues for October. The company reported that advertising revenues from continuing operations dropped 4.9%, and its total revenues -- essentially those from advertising, circulation, and other areas, such as commercial printing -- were down 2.9%. The company's advertising revenues from its New England operations, primarily the Boston Globe, plummeted by nearly 12%.

Where, then, is Times likely to wind up, say, two or three years into the future? The only apparent answer is that the company as we know it seems unlikely to continue to exist. Media companies have, of course, become subject to increasing attention from private equity types of late. Tribune (NYSE: TRB) continues to be pored over by those considering private equity purchases, and a similar fate appears possible for Dow Jones (NYSE: DJ). And last week, radio giant Clear Channel (NYSE: CCU) received its financial marching orders when a private equity buyout was announced.

Interesting that Clear Channel also was in trouble and is going private. Not unlike newspapers, radio is growing to be a thing of the past among young people. I know that among my friends, who are in the 20s and 30s, few of us listen to radio. The only radio I listen to is talk radio on the AM dial, and I could get that on satellite or on the Internet. For music, I listen to the stuff I have in iTunes and if I want new music, I listen to Internet radio on iTunes or AccuRadio or another site recommended by a friend. There is nothing at all that I miss about radio. In fact, I don't even own a stereo. The only radio in my house is a small clock radio that can be operated by battery in case of an emergency.

So it looks like the M.O. for these old media companies is to break up and sell off the small parts to try to save themselves. That seems to me to indicate companies in a sinking industry reaching for a life preserver. As does this story in today's New York Times.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The environmental case for newspaper abolishment

There was also bad news on the cost side of the ledger in 2005. Newsprint prices, so soft in 2003 and early 2004 that they may have masked deteriorating fundamentals, were up another 5% to 10% in 2005. More of the same is expected in 2006.13 Watch for a continuing wave of reductions in paper weight, newshole and page width to cushion the cost impact. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, plans to shrink the size of its broadsheet from 60 inches to 48 in 2007.

source: State of the News Media 2006

A metro newspaper uses approximately 200,000 tons of newsprint each year. At current newsprint prices, a typical publisher spends about $150 per reader on the manufacture of a daily newspaper. It might therefore prove cost-effective for the newspaper to add value by offering a reading device as part of a print/electronic subscription package.

source: Peter G. Marsh, Newspapers and Technology

After reading numerous Star Tribune editorials about saving forests and stopping global warming - I thought it odd that a major newspaper that needs a lot of fresh forest every day to make their paper would write an editorial about saving forests.

Newsprint, which is what newspapers are made of, runs between 70 percent and 100 percent virgin forests. Though more than 60 percent of newsprint is recycled, not much of it again becomes newsprint. Virgin newsprint is much cheaper. A lot of recycled newsprint in the United States goes to China, recycled newsprint is one of the largest exported products in America. Even though we are recycling more, overall we are using more, much more. Americans average more than 300 pounds of paper used per person per year - compare that with Angola where a person averages 7 pounds per year.
source: The Minnesota Daily

If there is any reason to cheer shrinking news holes, disappearing stock pages, smaller and smaller broadsheets, and declining newspaper circulation, it's that less newsprint is being used.

The energy industry gets a lot of criticism for being socially irresponsible in not finding innovative ways to produce energy while looking to stabilize carbon emissions. They are criticized as lacking in vision or initiative. I submit that the news industry has not had the vision to think of ways to speed up the process of eliminating newsprint. Of course, the foresting industry would have problems with this. But forests are an important storage of carbon sources, which puts a damper on global warming. Also, forests will become ever more important as storms increase in intensity and communities risk damage from heavy flooding.

Newspaper companies could buy recycled newsprint, but that's more expensive, and clearly they are already concerned about their bottom-lines as they take more efforts to reduce the amount of newsprint they buy. It seems that if newsprint producers keep increasing prices, news pages will continue to shrink. Most broadsheet papers are now 12 inches across, when closed. The Wall Street Journal is 15 inches across, but it will go down to 12 in 2007. It won't feel like the Wall Street Journal anymore.

Newspaper companies could work with other stakeholders on Internet access initiatives, to address the digital divide problem. As access increases, circulation goes down, newsprint consumption decreases, forests are saved. Perhaps this is a simplistic view, but it seems that from a social and environmental responsibility perspective, elimination of the physical newspaper shouldn't be resisted, it should be considered a goal.

According to, one ton of newsprint takes about 12 trees. A metro paper uses about 200,000 tons of newsprint each year. That's 2.4 million trees each year for one metropolitan region. So we could potentially save millions and millions of trees, at a time we need them most.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Battalions of reporters for what?

I so agree with William Marimow, the new editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Mr. Marimow said he would continue the focus on local news, and told the staff that the days of sending “battalions” of reporters to events like Hurricane Katrina or the war in Iraq were over.

Talk about a waste of money. What are a dozen reporters from the Philadelphia Inquirer going to tell people in the Philly area about Iraq that they won't find out from the New York Times, CNN, or Baghdad Burning? Nothing. Unless there is some kind of local relevance, and there rarely is, regional metro papers should stop this practice. It's a waste of money, time, and it clearly stems from a desire to win a Pulitzer or other prizes. Do that by focusing on your local communities -- that is the news that people look for from you, whether they get it in print or online.

Newspaper circulation way down, online readership way up

Good news for the newspaper industry, I think. This story in Editor and Publisher analyzes the recent numbers released by FAS-FAX on newspaper circulation. Overall, daily circulation was down 2.5 percent and Sunday circulations was down 3 percent. Not good news.

But this is good news, and I wonder if we will start seeing more reports on "total readership" as the norm. It seems like a much more relevant metric than circulation:

Some believe that total audience is a measurement the industry should have started pushing years ago. While the print product shows declines, online and niche products are actually growing the reach of newspapers. Among 25-to-34 year olds, at least 17 papers made a gain of 20% -- when factoring in Web sites.

The NAA reported that September marked a milestone for newspaper Web sites: More than 58 million people or more than one in three active Internet users visited a newspaper Web site -- a record.

There’s no question that newspapers are making great strides in driving online readership, especially as online revenue is growing like gangbusters. What remains to be seen is if they get the credit.

More than one in three active Internet users visited a newspaper Web site. Those are some darn good numbers. Could we see a further spike, and maybe get news readership back up to the levels we saw in 1970, when newspaper reading hit its peak? Some 62 million papers a day were sold in 1970. Granted there were fewer people in this country then, but that's an equally impressive number.

The fact is, newspapers do what only they can do. Taking the product online does not change it. In fact, it only enhances it.

I want to do a post on newspaper access...of course, we should be concerned about people who don't have Internet access. I am also curious about how Internet access is fast are people acquiring Internet access? If you have any good resources, let me know.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A quadruple homicide and the stories newspapers can't tell

I was a cop reporter for a few years. So sometimes I find myself doing or thinking things that most people might find gruesome. This week I was obsessed with My Death Space. This is a site that lists the deaths of people who have MySpace profiles. It also lists MySpace members who have killed.

Overall the site paints a picture of youth living and dying violently. Stabbings, shootings, suicides, (accidental) chokings, car accidents. Many had cancer or other medical problems. It's sad, sick and gruesome, but I think the site can teach a lot of lessons and serves as a clearinghouse of grief. I'll explain.

When I was a cop reporter, one of the most frustrating things for me was figuring out how to encapsulate the massive grief at a crime scene or in the home of a family that has just lost someone to violence in 18 inches of copy or less. It's just impossible. Sure, frequently a relative will utter something that you know will make a good quote, that is poignant and penetrating or particularly illustrative of the qualities and memory of the deceased. A lot of times no one wants to talk to a reporter in those situations. But sometimes, family and friends pour out their hearts to reporters, to help them with the grieving process, to give the deceased the airtime or newspaper space that the families feel they deserve. I've spent hours with grieving families, only to go back to the newsroom and have no idea where to begin "summing up" the grief.

A quadruple homicide on My Death Space sucked me in: Jessi Ashton Jephson, a 20-year-old in Winchester, Va., about two hours from D.C. and not close to much else, was accused of shooting to death his 19-year-old girlfriend Amanda Orndorff, her 2-year-old son Christopher, her father Samuel Orndorff, and Amanda's nephew, 17-year-old Travis Putman. He (allegedly) shot them in their home, and police found him hours later with a gun. He was arrested and charged with capital murder, and more charges are likely pending.

Jessi Ashton Jephson's MySpace page says that he liked "chillin wit my boy putman." The same one he (allegedly) killed.

My Death Space sums up what happened and provides links to Jessi's, Amanda's, and Travis's MySpace pages. And what is on these pages tells so much more of the story, and so much more about the grief that these deaths in this small rural town caused, than the local newspaper, or any newspaper, could possibly tell.

Friends still go to Amanda's and Travis's pages to leave comments, nearly a month after the deaths. Travis's girlfriend left a very long comment on his alleged killer's page.

I located the local paper, the Winchester Star, which did a pretty good job covering the deaths. But the newspaper couldn't convey the grief the same way the MySpace pages do, nor could it paint the relationships between the dead, the alleged killer, and all of their friends and families the same way MySpace does.

One of the comments on Travis's page says something about how his mom didn't want anyone from the Winchester Star at his funeral (I know how that feels). That's weird, because you have the funeral which is and should be a private grieving process, but at the same time friends and family grieve openly on MySpace, where potentially millions can read their expressions of love and reverence. The newspaper quotes Amanda's mother as saying the family is poor, but has a lot of love. The MySpace pages, in conjunction with some photos from the Winchester Star, really paint the picture of kids growing up in a poor rural area, with not much to do but drink and smoke pot, hanging out at the mall and going to high school football games for fun.

Another indication that these kids were not the wealthiest (Amanda was a security guard at KMart) is that hardly any national news media picked up the story of two young people, a father, and a baby being shot by a close friend. The Washington Post ran a tiny piece which has already been scrubbed from their web site. The Dallas Morning News also ran a brief, about four grafs. Aside from that, a few local TV stations in Virginia and DC, and the Winchester Star were the only media who cared.

Compare that to Natalee Holloway, a "beautiful" blond girl from a wealthy Alabama suburb. Endless news coverage on her, and it hasn't even been proven that she was killed.

It has bothered me for a long time that people of color, poor people, unattractive people, etc., get less news coverage when they die violent deaths.

MySpace allows the people in the lives of Travis Putman, Amanda Orndorff and her family, to tell their stories -- the ones that mainstream media won't or can't tell.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Cleveland Plain Dealer cuts staff

Pretty drastically, too:

The Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper, announced Wednesday that 64 of its 372 editorial employees - about 17 percent of its reporters, editors, photographers, clerks and librarians - have accepted a voluntary buyout program to reduce newsroom staff.

The Plain Dealer's owner, Advance Publications Inc., offered the buyout in August to all of its 1,452 workers to help reduce expenses. Several newspapers have taken similar steps as readers turn to television and the Internet for news, reducing newspaper circulation.

Newspaper circ down

Editor and Publisher:

Just like downtrodden Charlie Brown on Halloween, it looks like many newspapers are going to get a bag of rocks when the Audit Bureau of Circulations releases the fall 2006 circulation numbers on Oct. 30.

Earlier this week, E&P reported that overall circulation data for the upcoming FAS-FAX are trending much like past reporting periods, with industry sources expecting daily down 2.5% and Sunday down 3%, and some major metros are reporting record losses. Now we have the actual numbers for several papers.

When E&P contacted one circulation director about the rumor of possible gains at his paper he quipped: "Is it April Fools?"

One public company issued advanced data. In a press release for 3Q results, Belo reported The Dallas Morning News showed steep declines for the six-month period ending September 2006. Daily circulation dropped 13% while Sunday slipped 12%. The company attributes the losses to a cut in statewide circulation and in third-party advertiser sponsored copies.

Daily circulation at The Providence (R.I.) Journal is down 2.5% and Sunday decreased 8%. The sharp decline in Sunday circulation is due to the company weeding out third-party circulation.

The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif., lost 4% of its daily circulation. Sunday is down slightly.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Shift to new media a matter of culture change

Whew. I wish I could post daily on this blog, but working full-time and going to school part-time seems to eat up all my free time. Maybe I am to blame -- I like to sleep, eat, and exercise. That doesn't leave much time for blogging or reading blogs.

Anyway, as I have begun to think about the transition from old to new media I have become convinced that the lagging behind is due to culture -- traditional journalists not wanting to change their ways. In laypeople's terms -- stubbornness, I suppose. Many newspapers have adopted new technologies to make the process of newsgathering easier. Kudos. Lots of newspaper web sites have blogs by reporters and fora for readers to comment on, network, exchange information. Nice.

But what about a radical development? The term open source journalism has been in use recently to describe the changing relationship between professional reporters and readers. Specifically, it entails the notion that regular citizens can engage in fact-gathering and news analysis, supplementing the work journalists do. Sure, that has generated quite a bit of resentment, but that notion is becoming more prevalent.

What is less prevalent is the idea the journalistic competitors would actually collaborate on a story. The prestige of a scoop? Nice, but is it really worth sacrificing the potential depth and meaning of a news story, especially these days when so many journalists view themselves as in competition with blogs? We've seen how blogs with armies of readers can uncover new facts, research the nitty gritty details of web sites, unearth buried pages containing jewels of information, and advance a story in the mainstream media -- doing the work that one or two reporters did not have the time (or motivation?) to do.

From E-Media Tidbits:

If you can see past the competitive myopia that's endemic to the culture of many mainstream news organizations, there are lots of opportunities for "competitors" to collaborate on coverage in ways that leverage unique strengths and resources, thus yielding a larger audience (read: ad dollars) for all involved. Giving credit, offering live links, and even working out joint publishing strategies for certain stories might ultimately become strategies to build audience loyalty. As long as everyone involved is clear about who did what reporting, such collaborative efforts might even strengthen news brands -- rather than undermine them.

I realize this is a controversial proposal in mainstream media circles. I'm not dissing competition entirely. Competition has indeed fostered much good journalism.

But...competition is not the only way to approach reporting and publishing news. In fact, in some cases (especially with shrinking newsroom staffs and budgets) an overly competitive mindset might even be getting in the way of better journalism -- and better business for news organizations.

Now that's a radical culture shift, one that I would be all for. Producing better journalism without hiring legions of reporters, and potentially boosting advertising revenue? What's not to like?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Why you should come to "Death of the Newspaper"

* You are a journalism or communication student, and eventually you will be looking for employment. Come here to get a handle on the direction the media industry is headed -- you've always wanted a newspaper job and you can still have one, but what special skills can you bring to the table beyond the "five Ws"?

* You are a journalism or communication student and you have to write a paper. Maybe it is on traditional media vs. new media. "Death of the Newspaper" is the perfect place to come for insight and links to relevant articles and web sites.

* You are a journalism professional who has been trained in the sound traditions of journalism - ethics, interviewing, inverted pyramid, etc. But you want to do research on making the transition from the traditional media world to working in new media. Death of the Newspaper can provide resources.

* You're interested in media and want to learn about all aspects of media - not just the editorial side but the business and industry of traditional media, in particular.

This blog is still in its formative stages, and I'm working on developing a cohesive theme. But blogging is all about self-expression, and while I'm forming that theme I will take a smorgasbord approach. I will try to write as many posts as my time allows pointing you to interesting articles, tidbits of information, and other web sites and blogs where you can find even more insight and analysis on the transition from old to new media.

I will update my link lists (to the right) with the most relevant sites and information. One of my essential daily reads is Editor & Publisher. It's the oldest publication covering the newspaper industry and it dates back to 1884. It covers all aspects of the print industry - editorial, advertising, circulation, and technology. Their online section chronicles news and developments in online journalism and industry. I consider E&P to be one of the best sources of journalism about journalism.

E-Media Tidbits at is another favorite site of mine. It's written by a group of people who work in online journalism and publishing. Poynter is a trusted source to me, primarily because of their demonstrated commitment to journalistic excellence, ethical reporting, and diversity in the media among its practitioners and its subjects. Poynter owns the Times Publishing Company, which operates the St. Petersburg Times of Florida, widely considered to publish some of the best newspaper writing in the country.

These two sites are important to me, and the mission of this blog, because they effectively link the best of "old" media with the future of new media. I will constantly be on the lookout for more resources that realize this critical link.

Ethics, excellence and fairness are at risk of expiration along with the physical newspaper. It is so important to hold onto these tenets as media transform and as the journalistic culture broadens and shifts. So the point of this blog is not to celebrate the death of the newspaper; it's to serve as a sort of clearinghouse and thought space for how we can preserve what makes American journalism so strong as we head deeper into the Information Age.

Can we do it? I think so.