Not long ago, newspapers were seen as a dying breed. Admittedly, they have seen better days. Advertising is flagging and readers are moving form the papers to the Internet. The Federal Trade Commission set up sessions exploring how to safe the flagging newspaper industry. There was talk of state subsidy and of possibly turning them into some form of charitable corporations. In “The Vanishing Newspaper” (2004), Philip Meyer, predicts that in 2043, someone will be receiving the final copy of the final newspaper. Yet the demise of the newspaper could have been greatly exaggerated. Many are turning a profit again, admittedly a small profit, but that is certainly better than the nose dive they were experiencing not long ago.
But their survival has come at a steep price. These are not the same newspapers that we read a couple of years ago. Journalists and editors have taken the brunt of the cuts as newspapers have pared down. According to the American Society of News 13,500 positions have been cut in the last three years. An article in the Economist points out that unlike papers in many other countries, American newspapers have traditionally relied heavily on ad revenues. According to the Economist: “Fully 87% of their [American newspapers] ad revenues came from advertising in 2008, according to the OECD. In Japan the proportion is 35%. Not surprisingly Japanese newspapers are much more stable.”
In central Europe some publishers had their most profitable first quarter on record. Brazil now boasts five tabloids and advertising has remained strong. In the U.S., some companies have had remarkable rebounds since mid 2009.
Although most newspapers have raised their prices, and cuts in the cost of paper and in the amount of paper being used have also helped, it is the internal cuts and terminations that have led the way in publishing’s survival of the fittest. In the U.S., newspapers reacted to the recession by cutting not with a scalpel, but with a butcher knife. From film and theatre reviewers, to science, business, reporters in nearly all fields felt the cuts. This approach has reshaped newspapers as we know them. Most now rely on wire services or the larger national outlets to supply them with much of the information and articles on music, film, food, health, cars, business, and foreign affairs. With newspapers now heavily relying so heavily on the wire services for their coverage of the arts and business and foreign affairs, we are losing a great deal. We are left with a homogenized centralized view of the world. We have one or two voices where once there were many.
Newspapers are also morphing; learning from the net, many are becoming more specialized and niche focused. Most are concentrating more than ever on giving readers what they want as opposed to offering a well rounded, vetted, journalistic view of the world, which also has its dangers. Yet, the upside is that, realizing that small papers have overall fared much better than large publications during the recession, many are once again becoming truly local newspapers. An increase on local news and events is a good thing. It is that approach that initially built the newspaper industry.
Copyright © Anthony Mora 2010
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