09 September 2010

The New York Times - Gone In 5 Years!

Wednesday, the publisher of The New York Times reiterated a prediction of the imminent demise of the newspaper's print edition, which he first predicted about five-years ago. Back then publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, said the newspaper's print-edition would be gone within a decade.  Now, he is tacitly confirming recent predictions by industry analysts that America's Newspaper of Record will no longer publish a print edition by 2015--five years!

Sadly, and inevitably, the same fate awaits almost all printed newspapers in this country.  There are exceptions, such as Spanish language newspapers which flourish---hold this thought, I'll come back to it tomorrow.

There is a desire, particularly among those who are really responsible for newspaper's declines, to blame the internet.  You can include this shallow, tunnel-visioned way of thinking as part of the problem, not identification of the problem.  It is always easier to point fingers and assign blame than to assume responsibility.  Newspapers began losing subscribers, readers, and advertisers long, long before the advent of online news, information and entertainment sources.

The death of newspapers (and their online efforts) is easily attributable to several things.

First:  Publisher's greed.  The moment that the accountants glommed their sweaty hands on subscription fees as a way to jack up revenues circulation began its decline-advertisers pay their rates based on circulation, among other things.  In short, newspapers priced themselves out of inner-city, and working-family neighborhoods, and mounted outrageous pressure sales schemes targeting affluent suburbs using discounts, and merchandise give-aways.  They demanded multi-month payment in advance.  They rejected and left behind their most loyal readers.  Over the short term it worked.  Long term, it has become a dismal failure as economics now force scaled-down products to compete for subscribers without bribes, irrelevant inducements, and give-aways!

Equally devastating to the bottom line was the way publishers gouged and ignored the pleas and complaints from advertisers during the go-go 80's and 90's.  Doubt me?  Take a look around at the proliferation of the FREE Real Estate, Automobile, "Saver", and neighborhood publications out there.  Local advertisers find them more effective and less costly than newspapers.  They exist because newspapers created their need.

National advertisers also bailed out and took their free-standing inserts to direct mail programs.  Those inserts on Sunday constitute a major amount of revenue and...the newsroom will not like to hear this,  are a significant reason for Sunday newsstand or news-rack purchase.  But, if it comes in the mail for free, why do we have to shell out two-bucks or more to get it?  We don't!

Remember this. Loyalty is the absence of something better!

Editorial Elitism and Sheer Stupidity: Aside from greed, the arrogance of the newsroom is the singularly easiest identifiable factor in the readership exodus.  Let me cite some things that they ignore, disregard or choose not to acknowledge.  They are not in competition with TV or radio--yet they behave as though they were.  Except for national newspapers, their lead stories ought not be national or international news.

Locally, they just can't match the immediacy of television or radio. Yet they persist in rehashing, the next morning, that which was worn out and stale by 10:00PM the night before.  Folks, hitting yourself in the head with a hammer does not make the headache go away. Cheez!  Catch a clue, will you?

Look, TV and Radio are little more than headlines services, throwing out a few stories between commercials per airtime bloc, with each taking little more than 60-seconds to one minute to air.  The network, cable and national newspapers adequately (ahem) cover world and national news.  Local newspapers can't compete with that, but my God, how they try; filling their news holes with day-old, wire-service accounts of world and national news that has already been exploited to sheer mind-numbing exhaustion elsewhere.  Sometimes I think every news staffer has visions of a desk at The NYT or WaPo.

This leaves local, regional and state news as their franchise.  Please, do this for me.  Take several of your local newspapers, lay them out on the kitchen table (that's where we blue-collar types do our best thinking) and see what proportion of the lineage is devoted to local news, information, and entertainment.  Chances are you'll be treated to a rehash of Karzai's corruption, but will play hell finding out why there were sirens on your street last night, or an account of your company's softball game, or kid's soccer game.  The closer it is to me, the more interested I am.

Turn to the editorial and op-ed page, and see whether or not your newspaper gives a fair, balanced and equal voice to divergent opinions and columnists across the political spectrum.  I'm betting a doughnut against last summer's straw hat, they don't!  Hell, we don't need liberal readers!  Hell, we don't need conservative readers!

As I said, elitist and stupid.

Tomorrow: Circulation & Marketing Dithering, Disaster, & Why Online Is Not The Answer.

Please note: The writer worked for over three decades for newspapers in Major Markets to Podunk towns in positions ranging from carrier to Group Marketing Director, and Interim Circulation Director of the Oakland Tribune, and Circulation Director at a Midwest daily. Most recently, before the position was eliminated, he was the promotion/sales manager of a small-market newspaper in Texas.

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