Newspaper industry facing huge challenges
January 5, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS Its not been a kind year for newspapers, locally, nationally or worldwide. Todays trends dont necessarily mean the end of newspapers altogether, but it does signify a change in the media as we currently know it.The industry is certainly diversifying and, to a certain degree, is seeing a more democratic playing field in terms of competition, said Richard Stevens, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder.We are in a new era in terms of communication and unfortunately the news industry, particularly print, have been very slow to change the way they do business, he said.Over the past century newspapers have played a dominant roll in public communication and are now struggling to adapt to the Internet earthquake that has imploded the business model foundation that has proven so successful in the past.I think the biggest problem is an unwillingness to change early as it occurred for many of these organizations, Stevens said. The industry could have easily invented eBay or Craigslist, or some of these models that are redistributing income away from (traditional media), but we were just slow out of the gate. We were at a dominant position and did not change when the world called for it.
The newspaper industry has seen many Goliaths succumbed to financial distress in the past few months.In August the first waves were felt regionally when the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel was put up for sale by its owners, Cox Enterprises Inc. based in Atlanta.The Aspen Daily News cut its circulation in the western part of Garfield County and also eliminated its weekly sports section.Then in November, Rich Boehne, President and CEO of E.W. Scripps Company, announced that it was putting The Rocky Mountain News, Colorados oldest newspaper, up for sale.There were more stories to write in the weeks that followed, with fewer and fewer reporters to write them.The Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. More and more news agencies have eliminated many positions to save money.Most recently, Colorado Mountain News Media, which owns the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Aspen Times, Rifle Citizen Telegram, and several other daily and weekly newspapers in the region, closed three of its weekly publications, the Valley Journal in Carbondale, the Leadville Chronicle, and the Spanish-language publication La Tribuna based in Glenwood Springs.The Post Independent also joined other CMNM daily newspapers in making staff reductions. CMNM, which is based in Gypsum, and all its publications are owned by Swift Communications out of Nevada.The economy is one of culprits of the latest wave of newspaper struggles.It has hit for sure, said Aspen Daily News Publisher David Cook. Its definitely hit everyone as hard here, as nationally with the Tribune company. Look at the Valley Journal shutting down. These are major changes.
Paul Voakes, Dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder attributes several causes for the sudden deterioration for newspapers. And, its been happening for at least a decade, he said.Weve got a perfect storm economically in the newspaper business. Many people have identified this trend that has beset the newspaper industry going back 10 years or more with the initial growth of the Internet, Voakes said.The Internet, with outlets such as Craigslist and eBay, has taken away a large portion of the newspapers main source of income: Classified and display advertising. But thats not all, according to Voakes.We get so much more advertising delivered by the U.S. Postal Service than we used to, he said.Since the early 1970s, classified and display advertising collectively accounted for between 75 and 90 percent of a paid circulation newspapers revenue, according to Voakes. With so many other outlets for advertisers, those days are gone.But different options for advertising through the Internet isnt the only reason for falling revenues. The Internet has also caused newspapers to deal with declining readerships as well.More and more people are going online or using wireless devices to get news and information. That could be the surest sign that the printed medium is on its way out.Its a really interesting time, Voakes said. Weve got senior citizens and weve got middle-aged people still subscribing to newspapers, but it could be an historic inevitability through the passage of time that the next generation of senior citizens are using wireless devices.By the time the national economy took a dive in 2008, the years of losing revenue caught up with the newspapers. Locally, real estate was a huge factor.The number one resource for media revenue in this valley is real estate, Cook said. With the downturn in real estate transactions and home values, people are spending less. The real estate market gave us a false sense of security to drive media in this valley.Without it, Cook anticipates that some less-established news outlets will disappear.
As Dean of a Journalism School, Voakes said that one of the things most surprising to him is just how few students actually have a subscription to a newspaper, but instead use wireless sources to get their world, and even local, news.You cant just dismiss them as college students, he said. They are the next generation for adult readership.However, its not the death of journalism, its just the beginning of a change in newspapers.I dont worry about the future of journalism itself, Voakes said. Journalism always adapts to technology.Post Independent editor Dale Shrull agrees that journalism will survive, but figuring out how to keep newsroom staff sizes from dropping too much will be the challenge.Whether people get their information via print media or the Internet, the sales model still must work. If the sales model continues to erode through the drop in display and classified sales, it will be difficult to pay journalists to write stories and report the news. Whether its print or Internet, journalists still need to be paid, and that will depend on figuring out the revenue streams of the future. And obviously, that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.Over the past century, newspapers have had to change to compete with the introduction of radio in the early 1900s, and then with television in the mid 1900s.Its now a trend whereby the business model of the 20th Century newspaper is not only irrelevant, but is also dysfunctional, Voakes said. The 21st Century newspaper caught many executives by surprise, and no one Ive seen knows what the new business model for the 21st Century newspaper is going to look like.As far as local media is concerned, Cook said that there will always be a need for local media, but that too must change.The only way to get local news is from local media, he said. But, if news wants to continue there has to be resources available to staff a newsroom.Developing revenue from online advertising has proven a great challenge. But all is not lost, according to Stevens.The biggest paradigm shift for all analog media is the understanding that if in the 20th Century we built media on competition, that in the 21st Century it should be built on collaboration, Stevens said. I think online media gets that. They share information right and left, they connect to each other in new ways.The one thing that is a certainty, at least in Stevens mind, is that newspapers have to change but hes confident they will.We havent experienced a communication revolution like this probably since the printing press was invented. But I dont think that means automatically that the print industry is doomed. I just think it means that they are going to have to rethink the way they do business and find a new philosophy and a new place in the American media diet, Stevens said. We have to change or die. Its evolution. Its that simple.Contact John Gardner: firstname.lastname@example.org