The Chicago Tribune reduced its news staff once again on Wednesday, due to restructuring and
...the economic downturn and changes in the media business that Editor Gerould Kern said "will focus us more clearly on our core mission" going forward.
Nationally, newspaper circulation has been in freefall since 1987, and the parachute never deployed. The industry has been victimized by lifestyle changes, emerging technologies (cable TV, satellite TV, and the Internet), and other news sources, such as online TV and radio sites, and social media outlets. In an attempt to evolve, newspapers produced less news, adding gimmicky special sections to help reel in more revenue. Yet, simple economics kept advertisers from biting: as circulation declined and advertising costs rose, newspapers became the least-efficient choice. Additionally, the twenty-plus year struggle to add pages was counterproductive, as one of the largest causes for the industry's decline was bulkiness (some Sunday papers weighed up to seven pounds).
Not only counter-productive, newspapers have been notoriously difficult to work with; high rates and confusing rate structures, accompanied with an unwillingness to negotiate have led many advertiser's to steer clear of running ads in their local paper. One option, never implemented, was to move newspapers in the opposite direction, cutting down non-news items, reducing the size of the paper, and selling papers to a business-based demographic. However, no one took the road less traveled.
In AdAge today, Jason Klein, president-CEO of the Newspaper National Network (NNN, a partnership of 25 major newspaper companies) published his view on the state of the industry. The major point: airlines have survived tough times, and so will newspapers. Mr. Klein also partially blamed the industry's woes on President Nixon's Newspaper Preservation Act, which allowed Joint Operating Agreements between competing papers in large markets. He also stated that there are too many newspapers in existence today, and consolidation = survival. His final point brought up paying for online subscriptions.
What he did not address is the fact that online newspapers are currently free (with a few exceptions), and there may not be enough readers willing to pay for subscriptions. Consumers have come to expect free online information, and once papers begin to charge, many users will simply change sources.
Newspaper companies have enjoyed a long and profitable run; they've also known for years that this day was coming. If consolidation is the answer, as Mr. Klein states, it should have happened ten-years ago. Online opportunities should already be in operation, and streamlined papers are over a decade late.
Although the NNN states that it's "time for a comeback," newspapers close or declare bankruptcy weekly. Several papers have moved online, while others have simply ceased operation. Award-winning journalists have been sacked, but the skeletons of their papers remain. Much like the skeletons of dinosaurs.