‘US newspapers in trouble; worst yet to come’

Published by rudy Date posted on March 31, 2009

WASHINGTON – Newspaper ad revenues in the United States have fallen 23 percent in the last two years and because of the recession 2009 may be the worst year yet, said an annual report on the health and status of American journalism.

Some papers are in bankruptcy, others have lost three-quarters of their value and nearly one out of every five journalists working for newspapers in 2001 is now gone as a result of layoffs, pay cuts, downsizing and firings.

No one is safe. Even Brenda Starr, the scarlet-lipped comic heroine has been furloughed after 69 years on the job.

Some estimates put the print ad revenue loss for newspapers at more than $11 billion and the number of American reporters who lost their jobs last year at about 16,000. 

In a sign of the times executives of The New York Times, the Boston Globe and other Times’ properties recently announced staff would have to endure a five-percent pay cut and 10 furlough days to help deal with an 18 percent drop in advertising revenue.

The Washington Post offered buyouts to business and editorial employees – the fourth in a series of moves to winnow down the staff.

Such bad tidings are common across the newspaper industry, the Washington Times reported on Sunday.

It said last week alone, the Houston Chronicle, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Boston Herald, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Buffalo News also announced substantial layoffs and pay cuts.

The 101-year-old Christian Science Monitor offered its last print edition on Friday and now, like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other newspapers, has gone completely online as a cost-cutting measure.

Bankruptcies also have been filed recently by the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Philadelphia Newspapers, which owns both that city’s Inquirer and its Daily News, and the Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and six other dailies.

No one can seem to agree on how to keep the presses rolling.

Audience migration to the Internet is increasing and the number of Americans who regularly go online for news, by one survey, jumped 19 percent in the last two years; in 2008 alone traffic to the top 50 news sites rose 27 percent, said a state of the news media report for 2009, a PEW project for excellence in journalism.

Yet it is now all but settled that advertising revenue – the model that financed journalism for the last century – will be inadequate to do so in this one, the report stated.

Growing by a third annually just two years ago, online ad revenue to news websites now appears to be flattening; in newspapers it is declining, it added.

The problem with the subscription model for today’s big newspapers is the fact that there is very little exclusive information of any real value, writes PC magazine columnist John Dvorak.

He said starting back in the early seventies, most of the big newspapers around the country started eschewing in-house reporting in exchange for syndicated news from the likes of the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Reuters.

Over time syndicated stories began to dominate the newspapers in major cities all over the country. It was just cheaper to do that, so they did.

Then came the Internet which added comparison shopping to the mix. Want a story about the baby stuck down in the well? How about 3,000 stories about the baby in the well? 

Pretty soon Dvorak said, the public began to notice that 2,975 of those 3,000 stories about the baby in the well were the exact same story, with the other 25 being rewrites of the exact same story.

Then came the revelation. ‘Hey, these newspapers are all doing the exact same thing! Why do we need so many of them?’ he added.–Jose Katigbak, STAR Washington Bureau

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