Gannett Company, which publishes 85 newspapers throughout the country, is reporting a whopping 36% drop in second-quarter profit this year. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal is trimming their editorial staff by 50 while hiring 95 more reporters. The move was prompted by Rupert Murdoch’s realization that every story run in WSJ is handled by 8.3 people before it ever makes it into print, an inefficiency which certainly contributes to the cost of publication.
Even the Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s getting in on the belt-tightening act, cutting 200 employees and eliminating some of its targeted news sections.
With news dinosaurs Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report all suffering massive drops in advertising pages and circulation, the folks at Small Dead Animals are waiting for the asteroid that will put MSM out of its misery.
Naturally, the print media is blaming the economy for the decline of advertising dollars and subscriptions. Apparently they’re too busy looking for scapegoats to read their own back issues, because the death of print media has been predicted for quite some time. It’s ironic, then, that newspapers — which online enthusiasts blame for being continually one step behind — are just now becoming aware of their seemingly inevitable demise.
The thing is, it’s not for lack of people actually interested in reading the news. Even as print readership has fallen off, online news readership has blossomed, a trend which should have prompted print media to examine its weaknesses. Unfortunately — for traditionalists, at least — there’s little that print media can do to lure its readership back. The medium itself is passeé.
I’ve always been a news junkie. As far back as I can remember, I’ve started my morning with the news. True, when I was 9-years-old and reading the morning paper over my bowl of Cap’n Crunch I was more interested in the comic section, but back then I’d occasionally read an entire story if the headline caught my attention. My morning news habit has not changed in the past 3 decades, and to this day I feel out of sorts if I don’t start my day catching up on world events.
When we were visiting the in-laws last week, I didn’t have internet access and actually found myself reading a dead-tree newspaper for the first time in several years. It was discomfiting to settle for poorly written stories that barely skimmed the surface of an issue while realizing that immediately educating myself further on a topic or reading a dissenting opinion wasn’t an option. More than once I found myself questioning statistics in a story about the election or the war but I couldn’t hop online to do some fact-checking of my own.
No wonder so many technophobes can’t discuss politics beyond sound bites and headlines, I found myself thinking. How can we ever consider our voting populace educated if they’re limited to merely accepting biased statements as “news”?
But therein lies the biggest limitation and turn-off for many readers: you either know and accept that a newspaper or news magazine has a political prejudice and will be running slanted stories that leave you in the dark or you assume you’ve got the full story when, in fact, you probably don’t. (And you know what they say about people who “assume” things.)
That’s the real change the internet’s brought to MSM: readers who are interested in the issues no longer have to depend upon a paper to decide for them “all the news that’s fit to print”.
Don’t understand the situation in Darfur, much less know where the place is? Hop online and read Wikipedia, then explore from there. Wonder why Conservatives think Obama’s secretly a Muslim when, after all, he attended a (possibly racist) church? Do some exploring and decide for yourself.
When you read the news online, additional information is just a mouse click away. When you read it in a newspaper or magazine you’re not just subscribing to their publication but to their political biases as well.
Having been through the whole Dan Rather/National Guard memo debacle in the last election, I know better than to trust the accuracy what I see in print. MSM’s political bias has, in my mind, become a given.
Judging by the drop in subscriptions and advertising revenue for print media, even people who don’t spend their entire days at the computer are starting to realize and reject this limitation, too.
So is this the beginning of the end for newspapers and news magazines in printed form? Quite possibly. But it might also signal a new beginning, too: that of the curious, self-educated reader. News organizations desiring to stay in business might want to take note and work with that. A good start: eliminating the annoying registration requirements and paid access to archives which simply send online readers looking for a more convenient source of news. An even better approach: stop fearing the blogosphere and start linking to it, instead.
Unless, of course, newspaper and magazine editors really are afraid readers will discover just how biased their stories are.