Times keep getting tougher for Traditional Newspapers

As I write this post, the venerable Chicago Tribune and the Lost Angeles Times teeter on bankruptcy.  The New York Times Company (NYT) plans to borrow up to $225M against its mid-Manhattan headquarters building to ease a potential cash flow squeeze. The NYT company has over $1B in debt. Both Seattle papers, The Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer, are announcing that the “dead tree edition” will be smaller in size, and presumably in content.  All of the foregoing papers, and many others, have already made painful cuts to their staffs and likely will continue to make further cuts.  Despite these losses, the online versions of all of these newspapers are enjoying more views than ever.  There is no shortage of people wanting to read the news, it just so happens that online traditional media have not found a business model that monetizes these online eyeballs.

I for one, read far more newspapers now than I ever did when you had to buy your newspaper in print form.  Paradoxical.  I leave it to others to put forth the reasons and why-fors of this financial crisis in traditional media.  But one thing I would add, traditional media have been very slow to adapt to changing technologies.  As early as the mid-90s anyone with any sense knew that the future lay online.  Yet it took well over a decade for most newspapers to recognize the need for an online presence.  Even then, they still failed to fully comprehend the trends in social media and the net.  The irony is that you can read the NY Times technology section to catch up on web trends and wonder if the editor is also reading the same section.  I suspect that there is a means vs. substance disconnect in journalists, especially the old school types.   Whatever it is, they better catch one quick cause they are dying a slow and painful death.

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2 Responses to “Times keep getting tougher for Traditional Newspapers”

  1. Actually the parent company of the LA Times and Chicago Tribune did file for Chapter 11 today. That company, Tribune, is also the parent company of two TV stations, KCPQ and KMYQ, for which I worked until one year ago tomorrow (when I resigned so that we could run West Seattle Blog as a fulltime business). They had already consolidated Northwest operations – Tribune’s Portland station (KCRW, I believe) is also run out of the control room (“regional operating center”) in Seattle, and the Seattle general manager for KCPQ/KMYQ was recently appointed as GM for the Portland station too (cutting the previous GM’s job in the process). Sadly, Tribune also started cutting some Seattle jobs – at least one good guy I know, the web producer for the stations, who happens to be a West Seattle resident, was cut last week.

    One interesting side note on the newspaper business troubles is this: Newspapers claim they cannot stop PRINTING, because they just don’t have enough ad revenue online yet. Whose fault is that? In no small part, theirs – because they regarded online advertising as a cheap throwaway or add-on to print advertising, for too many years (TV generally did the same – I was in many a meeting, to bear firsthand witness to such discussions). They have complained about losing classified-ad revenue to Craigslist et al, but they might not have done so if their rates for print, conversely, hadn’t been so high despite the declining influence of print (while promoting the West Seattle Community Garage Sale Day last year, I had to pay ALMOST A HUNDRED DOLLARS for a one-time-only classified ad in an area weekly paper – we had promised the founders of WSCGSD, when they turned it over to us, that we would advertise it offline as well as online, and had to keep that commitment).

    Listen to the recent Seattle Channel show on that topic; one of the local citywide papers’ publishers admits exactly that, they “taught” or “trained” (I forget which word he used) advertisers to pay low rates for online ads. And to make matters worse, trying to protect their semi-monopoly, the newspaper industry went around talking down the value of online advertising and online readers (I heard a recent radio show in which this was repeated by an industry mouthpiece), compared to print ads. Now that it’s clear they are going to have to become news organizations, rather than newspaper organizations, and going to have to rely on exactly that kind of advertising to fund their operations – how do they take those words back and explain, “whoops, we didn’t mean it”?

    To repeat the old line I used in a Twitter discussion about this earlier today, “they made their beds, now they have to lie in it.” Didn’t have to be this way, but it’s a lesson for all of us to keep our eyes on the horizon as well as on what we are in the middle of right now … and to be careful about ignoring or dismissing what we see off in the distance.

  2. I too read the Times and PI every morning…online only. I’ve never paid for a paper subscription. Perhaps it’s because my household has 3 laptops and an iPhone all within reach with instant access to the web.