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Placing the blame for newspapers' 900-job loss this week



Newspaperhawkerimage The Recovering Journalist blog has a sobering post up for anyone connected to the newspaper industry, noting that the total amount of jobs targeted for elimination this past week by major newspapers reaches above 900 positions.

I've been telling friends that being a working newspaper journalist -- and entertainment critic -- feels more and more like being the last penguin left on the ice floe. This morning, a friend and fellow journalist told me he doesn't read the industry blog Romenesko any more because it feels like looking at a roster of the dead.

This was never more true than this past week, when the industry learned of job cuts at the Baltimore Sun (100 jobs), San Jose Mercury News (at least 17 jobs), Palm Beach Post (300 jobs), Boston Herald (160 jobs), Daytona Beach Journal (99 jobs), Hartford Courant (57 jobs), Detroit newspapers (150 buyouts targeted), and more. See an interactive layoff map here and here.

But then blogger Mark Potts goes on to blame this mess on newspapers' complacency, citing -- among other things -- the fact that newspapers have provided their content for free on the Web for many years. And this is where I have to part company with the Recovering Journalist.

Newspapersrip Because those of us who have been watching this meltdown in real time know what is truly happening; every source of revenue feeding newspapers is crumbling, either because of the country's massive recession or because of digital technology. And no one in the industry has figured out how to stop it or find a new source of revenue large enough to plug the hole.

Declines in real estate, the auto industry, the airline industry and the retail industry have decimated our advertising market. Craigslist and similar free online advertising services have stolen away our lucrative classified ad business. And fewer people have time for the newspaper, which is depressing our circulation numbers.

When I hear people argue that newspaper didn't innovate soon enough, I never hear anyone propose an innovation that would have actually kept any of this from happening. It is easy enough to say newspapers should not have put their content on the Web for free, but the recording industry found out the hard way how difficult it is to make people pay for anything they can get free online, even illegally. And records have always cost more than a daily newspaper.

The problem newspapers have is that we have indoctrinated our customers for years to value our news product well below what it costs to create it. We used advertising revenue to foot the bill, and now that revenue isn't enough.

So tell me, folks who are criticizing newspapers, how do we find another source of revenue big enough to plug that hole, when even now, advertisers will only pay one-tenth the fee for an online ad that they would pay for a print advertisement? 


[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:48pm]


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