February 21, 2005


Hard News: Daily Papers Face Unprecedented Competition . . . (Frank Ahrens, February 20, 2005, Washington Post)

The venerable newspaper is in trouble. Under sustained assault from cable television, the Internet, all-news radio and lifestyles so cram-packed they leave little time for the daily paper, the industry is struggling to remake itself.

Papers are conducting exhaustive surveys to find out what readers want. They are launching new sections, beefing up Web sites and spinning off free community papers and commuter giveaways in hopes of widening their audience. They even are trying to change the very language of the industry, asking advertisers and investors to dwell less on "circulation" -- how many papers are sold -- and more on "readership," or the number of people exposed to a paper's journalism wherever it appears, in print, on the Web or over the air.

The changes come as circulation totals have eroded steadily for nearly two decades and as newspapers no longer play the central role in daily life they once did. Newspaper executives argue that an emphasis on readership better reflects what newspaper companies are becoming -- multidimensional media conglomerates with growing Internet sites and stakes in television, radio, magazines and other businesses.

"Natural societal things are going on," said Steve Lerch, a newspaper advertising buyer for Campbell Mithun of Minneapolis. "You can't take a half-hour to read the newspaper and eat a bowl of cereal in the morning. People aren't eating cereal anymore, either. I know -- I have General Mills as a client. People are eating yogurt bars on the way in to work."

Frank A. Blethen, publisher of the Seattle Times, said his industry has some breathing room left. But not much.

"The baby boomers are going to continue to drive print [sales] for some time," he said. "The problem we have are the . . . 18- to 35-year-olds. They're not replacing the baby boomers."

Others are more blunt, if hyperbolic.

"Print is dead," Sports Illustrated President John Squires told a room full of newspaper and magazine circulation executives at a conference in Toronto in November. His advice? "Get over it," meaning publishers should stop trying to save their ink-on-paper product and focus on electronic delivery of their journalism.

The major dailies join the network newscasts on the trash heap and it may be impossible to overstate what that means in terms of the Culture War. The renaissance of conservatism has come against an overwhelming dominance of the media by those whose views are well to the Left of the American public. Break that pedagogical grip and who knows how far the country could shift back to the Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 21, 2005 5:52 PM

I concur that the technology-driven information trends are favorable, but as always, we must be careful what we wish for. If we seek happiness and progress, individual choices and adaptation are the way to get there. We must keep before us that this does not mean plutocracy or toryism.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 21, 2005 8:04 PM

I concur completely and I believe the question of "who is a journalist?" will continue to be debated, with some on the left and mainstream media-types eventually backing some version of a journalistic license -- "to protect the delivery of free speech" or some such.

Sadly, legislatures and courts are practically reactionary at this point -- 20 to 30 years behind on the issue of cyber-publishing -- and they may only hinder smaller journalistic entities.

I wonder how the scribes reacted when that new printing press thing first came along and really started to mean something culturally? Before the reformation I mean...

Posted by: Seven Machos at February 21, 2005 10:42 PM

All those trees saved.

Could we get credit on Kyoto???

Posted by: Sandy P at February 22, 2005 12:35 AM

this is just part of an overall trend that is driving down the costs of entry for many business functions. other examples are technologies that allow musicians to record songs without a commercial studio, tax software that eliminates accountants, etc. does the ny times really have the best writers, the best critics, etc ? hardly. ideology drives out all other qualities from an endeavor.

Posted by: cjm at February 22, 2005 12:55 AM

Gonna be hard to wrap fish in pixels though.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 22, 2005 2:55 AM

A 'license to practice journalism' to protect free speech is too Orwellian even for the all but the Eleanor Clifts of the world not to get the irony.

The opinion journals have never done better though.

Posted by: Bart at February 22, 2005 8:35 AM

"Tear down that wall Mr. Sulzberger."

Posted by: Luciferous at February 22, 2005 2:54 PM