I'm moved enough to make a few comments today about the state of the struggling newspaper industry today. Here are my observations for better or worse:
Online Classified advertising is proving to be more profitable than print Classifieds.
Back in my publishing days, we depended on those print classified ads to help anchor the publication(s) with a steady flow of cash. Legal ads were also desirable because they were a steady income too.
Another reason why the classifieds do well is that we’re in the 21st Century and an increasing number of readers prefer to take care of business instantly. We are a nation of people who “want it now” and not later. It isn’t just the younger set that are tuning in to their daily newspapers online. Canny older consumers are finding that the deals online often beat anything around where they live.
I’m not surprised to see the newspaper industry struggling right now. The whole country is struggling in this depression. Couple that fact with the changing demographics of readers who now go online to get their news and do their shopping, and it becomes apparent that the web (in the end) is what’s going to save newspapers.
As odd as that may sound, I can foresee the majority of newspapers in the next ten years shifting their revenue emphasis to online products, while still maintaining a paper edition (in minimum local runs) for traditionalists and baby boomers like me, who still enjoy holding a newspaper and having the ability to cut items out of it for future posterity (just one reason).
As tough as the times are, there are newspapers hanging in there. One of the challenges facing newspapers profit lines is the publications that went public are now finding themselves leveraged to the hilt and drowning in debt-service.
A good example is the now bankrupt Tribune Company. Every single entity they own has been making money! Prior management (or mis-management if you will) took care of that by loading the companies up with debt. Has the lesson been learned? We’ll see.
The current owners (particularly the Sam Zell's and private equity firms of the world) are not “newspaper types”and could care less about the obligations a publication should have towards it’s readers. Unlike the families who started many of the nation’s newspaper chains, these new owners have had only one thing in their minds - profit first, second, and third.
Little niceties like ethics, and fair and honest reporting, are still be taught in colleges, but when the students graduate they find a whole new reality often awaits them.
I have no sympathy for the new breed of owners who ignore everything that’s important about newspapers and equate them with something called a “profit center.” If they lose all their equity and the bond holders take a beating during these bankruptcies, oh well. Cry me a river.
There’s still hope for newspapers. Watch and see which ones come up with a balance between integrity, emphasis on the reporters giving on-the-spot coverage that cannot be outsourced, and the addition of user-friendly online components that the 21st Century reader looks for.
As it Stands, I may be considered an “old time” journalist for the era I worked in, but I have made peace with the changes the newspaper industry is making, and still believe in the power of the written word!