Tuesday, October 7, 2008

An EPIC Prediction about Newspapers?

In an editorial on October 5th, The News Tribune of Tacoma bid farewell to five of their veteran staff. This was part of a buy out offer that was made to 189 of its staffers nearly a month earlier on September 8th as part of a belt tightening move. This was a big enough announcement to get Associated Press notice and distribution, and the story was even picked up by Forbes.

That same day, another McClatchy held paper, the Olympian, cut the newsroom staff and their workers' hours, shifting to a 37.5 hour work week. The Publisher, John Winn Miller, announced the cutbacks in an email to staff, and referenced the cutbacks that the papers had done since June of this year.

Certainly the economy is worsening and we have heard many stories from other economic sectors that echo this, whether it is the Weyerhaeuser layoffs that followed the decoupling from its other companies, or the seemingly ever present succession of financial crises.

And the question that follows is, where will we get the services of that company now, and what quality can we expect from that service? From the financial sector, the availability (or non-availability) of credit is wreaking havoc, freezing up these institutions to a point where a run on a bank is a possibility.

What about our information sources? What does the marked downturn in the fortunes of newspapers, whose revenue from advertising has been hit hard, and whose revenue from subscriptions has been on a long slow decline mean for our news?

There has been a transition to the web for many newspapers, and in that transition they have had to respond to how advertising is done and is paid for. The subscription model is practically nonexistent and the classifieds must compete with the likes of Craigslist.

Newspapers like the Tribune have adjusted in some fashion, employing blogging as an immediate information source and editorial venue and even creating positions such as the Online Editor. The News Tribune has been lucky to have Mark Briggs in that role. Mark, as has been mentioned here before, is one of his industry’s area experts in the use of online tools and applications by journalists, having authored Journalism 2.0 as an example.

But when Devona Wells left the Tribune, her blog, Open House, seemed to stop regularly posting. The blog was still prominent on the home page and one of the recent posts made stayed on as a link from the equivalent of the web site’s front page for more than two weeks. It was like finding a major bug in your software. Every time I went to the web site, it was there. Certainly other content was changing with frequency, but to leave a blog post up front for so long felt wrong. Yes, I know I haven’t posted myself in a few days, but I am not a newspaper. Besides, I am making up for it in length of post.

So where do we turn for real time news and information? Erik B, who has a blog on FeedTacoma, created a discussion on this topic. For a good back and forth on whether the blogosphere can pick up some of the slack, read the comments from that post.

In order to instigate discussion as to where things are headed, take a look at this now old flash based video called EPIC 2015 by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson. Originally created as EPIC 2014, so many of the predictions came true or near true that it was spooky. It also ended as a bit of a downer in its original form, and when the podcasting and blogging phenomenon grew, things looked a little more optimistic. They then revised as the current 2015. It is about the newspaper wars of 2010 and the demise of the printed paper.

As for what is happening in the real world of news, Mark Briggs will be visiting my class on the 29th of October and we can ask about it then.


Anonymous said...

Like we didn't know we're in trouble already. Guess there goes my chance of breaking into journalism.
On the other hand, while stocks are plummeting and newspapers are neglected, Britney and Paris and LC run rampant through the ever popular tabloids and stuff like The Hills still remains on the air.

Anonymous said...

Millions of people have subscriptions to pulp magazines and newspapers. The big question is if regional and local newspapers can change their business model fast enough.

Anonymous said...

I live in Syracuse, which has a population of about 140,000. I recently cancelled our daily subscription to the local paper, the Post-Standard (nicknamed by many “The Sub-Standard”) for economic reasons. Because of rising costs, the P.S. just raised their subscription prices, now asking more than The Boston Herald, The Seattle P.I. or the Chicago Tribune. I couldn’t justify the expense and now get my news online, and I guess I enjoy being able to read about what’s happening in the world, in real time. That said, I am saddened by the struggles facing the newspaper industry and will be devastated if the printed page goes the way of the Dodo in my lifetime. I’m not old, just old school, and I don’t think anything compares to reading a newspaper or a good book. I own a set of books called “The Temple Shakespeare” that were published in the late 1800’s, and the smell of the pages and the feel of the binding and the thrill of knowing that over a hundred years ago someone was reading that exact same book cannot be surpassed. Curling up in bed with a good Kindle just doesn’t cut it. And I liked getting ink on my fingers every morning. I’m really hoping the web and the printed page can find a way to co-exist.

Droid116 said...

Good comments all. We checked these out during the class discussion on the topic.

Duathlon Dawg said...

My thought is that this downsizing of local newspapers is merely a by product of the need for large companies to consolidate in response to increased globalization. I feel this is a simply a side-effect comparable to how many local mom and pop stores have been forced out of business by large-multinational corporations like Wal-Mart. More than ever, locals are required to choose how to best spend their limited resources, time and money. As globalization marches on, just like the aforementioned local mom and pop stores, local newspapers will increasingly be stuck holding the short end of the proverbial stick. That is unless local citizens step-up to support these little guys. However, unfortunately the realistic side of my personality doubts this will actually happen. For the sake of all those connected to these local newspapers across the entire country, I truly hope my predictions are wrong.

Journalism 3.0 said...

I'll see if I can find someone to update the real estate blog for you. In the meantime, I posted a preview of what your class can expect from me here: http://is.gd/3QNM

Hopefully you have seen the press release from the EDB about Infoblox renewing its lease in Tacoma for another six years. Growing from sixty...