Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Changing times ...

The Inquirer announced a buyout offer this week in order to facilitate a reduction of newsroom staff by 16 percent -- 75 jobs. The newspaper business would seem to be in trouble. Advertising and circulation, for many papers, are both down. The Internet is frequently cited as the culprit -- people getting their news online rather than from papers.
This is usually thought of in terms of mere convenience, but I think there's a lot more to it than that. Take local news, for instance. I never look for local news on the Internet. I don't even know if there's much local news to be found there, apart from the local TV stations' sites -- and The Inquirer and Daily News sites. So it isn't just a matter of convenience. The A section of the paper I get every morning is right before the B section. I just skip it usually.
I read national and international news online because I can get nearer the source. If I want to know what's going on in Great Britain, I'll check the Times of London or the Evening Standard or the Telegraph.
But there's another problem. The newspaper business has become something of game of Chinese Whispers -- everybody's passing along the same story in the same way. There's also the problem of keeping up with the Times -- the idea that, if the New York Times did a big piece on something, every other paper ought to as well. My own view is that there's an entire planet's worth of news out there and that it's the job of reporters to find it and report it. I think people would buy any paper that was filled every day with stories about things they hadn't heard of, as opposed to another story that they've heard on radio and TV, and seen online. You can go anywhere in the U.S. and read the same damn thing in every newspaper.
The big story today is Tom DeLay's indictment. Let me make a prediction: DeLay isn't going to be convicted of anything. Why do I think that? Because I read the indictment -- and so can you right here. See if you can figure out what exactly it is DeLay is accused of (he's only mentioned near the end).
My point is that if you spend a bit a time on the Internet and are really interested in finding out the facts about the DeLay case, you can be your own reporter -- and your own media critic to boot, since you'll probably find the accounts in the papers and TV lacking in ... reportage. On the tube they'll have the same AP or Reuters story and some pompous windbags telling you how it's all going to turn out. In this case, it's trouble for the Republican Party, of course. In the paper there will be an analysis that will say much the same thing as the pompous windbags and the editorial page will portentously take a position that you can almost certainly guess if you're at all familiar with the paper in question.
Same old, same old. What people want is something different. News.


  1. You're not one of the people offered the buyout offer, are you, Frank?

    I agree with your points about the newspaper industry. Not really anything to add.

    I also agree that Tom DeLay won't be convicted. Unfortunately, it's not because I read the indictment or anything so well-informed as that. Simply, I'm a big cynic and I know a big muckety-muck like that won't even get a slap on the wrist.

  2. I gotta say I think it's more than that. I think this is really about revenue. Craigslist and the like have been killing classfied ad revenues. Likewise ads for movies are dropping too. In my never humble opinion, local papers make a grave error by trying to compete with national papers for national or world news. Stay local, you'll dominate and people take an interest. Combine these problems with an immediate, 24 hr news cycle and anything that makes it into the paper is old news by the time it's put on the truck.

  3. The reason revenue is down is because readership is down. If papers had more eyeballs on them, obviously they could charge more for ads.

    Hell, I write for a bunch of newspapers, but I seldom read them. (Not the physical product, anyway. I do read them online sometimes.)

    The content just doesn't seem relevant to me most of the time. The only reason we get the Washington Post (and even then only on Sundays) is for the coupons.

    I don't know what the solution is, other than the general one of offering content that can't be found elsewhere. If a newspaper can't distinguish itself as a source of unique content, why would anyone read it?

  4. I pretty much agree with Duffy about papers' trying to compete on national and international news. In fact, I don't even think the cable news channels can compete with the Internet if you are actually interested in finding out what's going on nationally and internatioanlly. Why listen to what some anchor reports about United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, when you can click it online and read it yourself? (This presumes you really want to get at the facts of the matter.)
    But I also agree with David that, to attract readers, a newspaper should have unique content. Of course, like it or not, the future of newspapers is online. The paper version, I think, will survive as a digest for commuters and as something like the the TV guide for homeowners -- a leg up for knowing what to look for online (though the people putting that out would have to be really plugged in and impartial -- if you asked most reporters now to do something like that, they'd tell you to click on the online equivalent of NPR or, worse, Daily Kos).