Friday July 11, 2008 | Decline of the Daily Newspaper

July 9, 2008 at 1:57 pm | Posted in On Air | 15 Comments

The daily newspaper, once a staple of the family breakfast table and coffee shop denizens, is under attack from the proliferation of electronic media and rising fuel and printing costs. The McClatchy Company, owners of the Charlotte Observer and other daily newspapers, recently laid off over a thousand employees. We’ll talk about challenges facing the daily newspaper in general and the Observer specifically.
Guest
Howard Weaver-
Vice President, The McClatchy Company
Min Jiang – Asst. Professor, Communication, UNC Charlotte
Rick Thames – Editor,
The Charlotte Observer
Listen to show

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  1. Interesting summary of a similar radio program in LA by KCRW’s on “To the Point” program, hosted by Warren Olney on Tues July 9th. A summary of key points was on the seeking alpha website this AM. My question is if you were fortunate to be able to buy the Charlotte Observer, what would be the business model of the paper? Would you eliminate classified ads (the declines in this biz are shocking)? If you eliminated certain business due to an inability to compete with free alternatives (ie internet), how would you rightsize the cost base? How would you communicate/negotiate that rightsizing with the Unions? Is that possible outside the contract cancelling protection of bankruptcy court? Thanks

  2. A living system will better survive to the extent that it processes information OVER matter/energy. The newsroom is information processing. The basement, the printing presses, the paper, the trucks, the gas…these things hold down a newspaper, especially when the cost of gas, paper, ink and such keep going up so precipitously.

    I think they should de-emphasize “paper” and focus on “news” and information. But the real paradigm shift is from a read-only format to a read-write format…and the internet, blogs, and such help foster this evolution.

    The Observer would do well to lead in teaching its audience about the new stuff. First they must learn it well, and not simply react against it.
    Cooperation trumps competition.

  3. Three reason why I don’t like newspapers.

    1) Too many ads! Stop letting businesses hijack you!

    2) Too much non-news! I don’t care what Miley Cyrus is wearing this week or who celebrities are sleeping with. Stop giving people what they want and give them what they need. Eventually, they’ll come around.

    3) Lack of proofreading! Every day, I find grammatical and spelling errors in supposedly professionally written content and it takes away from my reading. I make it a point to show these errors to my students and to point out that it demonstrates lack of professionalism.

  4. There is a real social problem that comes with the shift from reading a newspaper for information to getting it from electronic media (radio not included ;-)): electronic media contain less information and the information they do pass on is harder to retain. People get a lot less information when they watch TV or Cable news than when they read a newspaper story — just count the words involved.

    Now with the advent of internet “news sources,” there is a new problem — the competition of competition of non-professional news sources (such as bloggers, youtubers, and interest-specific websites) for the public’s attention. When a person reads a story in the newspaper, it has (supposedly) been written by a trained reporter who has consulted multiple sources, been checked by an editor, etc. A blogger just writes something and …puts it out there. Yet, to a lot of the public, this information is more friendly because it comes from someone just like them. Isn’t this a big problem for our democracy?

    Perhaps it is time that newspapers begin defeding themeselves, (the way public radio has for years) as a public service… because they really are.

  5. A blogger, being typically unpaid, and thus disinterested, can write negative copy on car dealers, and other big advertisers…who, in a sense, pay their way out of negative copy.

    Bloggers have gotten better as the quality of journalism has gotten watered down. Bloggers can write all day and night, and thus improve his or her craft, while those who only write for money tend to write much much less.

    Blogging and microblogging is part of this read/write world. Democracy demands information AND voice.

  6. Yes, and that’s great, but what happens when people prefer voice to the exclusion of information? If I tell you something that you are pre-inclined to believe, only tell you the facts that support that assertion (or slant/invent facts), you are going to like that “news” a lot more than something that someone has actually had to research and defend in front of a critical reader (an editor) but that says things you don’t agreee with. Yes, it’s a lot cheaper to do news this way, but you get what you pay for.

  7. You assume that the news is worth the paper it’s printed on. The bloggers have shown the ineptness of papers like “The New York Times” many times over.

  8. I do assume that the MSN is worth the paper it is printed on, though biases, misinformation and mistakes creep in, it is generally a self-correcting process as subsequent news stories (or other news sources, including blogs) force correction and accuracy. It’s a process that you won’t find on many blogs, especially the ones that are ideologically driven. Yes, bloggers discover things sometimes that professional reporters don’t cover — there are so many out there, they should. I’m not arguing against blogs, just against replacing conventional journalism with them — a view that some of you appear to favor. That’s a choice you can make, but it’s really just living life in an echo chamber.

  9. In my opinion print media has no more credibility than the blogs but I am not advocating replacing conventional journalism. I just don’t think conventional journalism should be viewed as arbiters of truth. Dan Rather would have successfully influenced a Presidential election with forged documents in the last weeks if not for the bloggers. It was a blogger (Drudge) that broke the Monica Lewinski fiasco.

    I believe that some newspapers are “self-correcting” but as a group blogs do a far better job of correcting each other. As to the “echo chamber” argument, I would point out that it was right-wing bloggers (and AM radio) that killed Bush’s immigration bill as well as the Harriet Meyers nomination.

    The problem with print media is that by the time I read a news report I’ve seen the same story analyzed from ten different angles. The biases and shortcomings of the print media become plain to see, unless you live in the “echo chamber” of the mainstream media.

  10. I’m certainly not denying that the blogs (and partisan news sources) are influential, but this isn’t what I mean when I refer to this kind of “news” coverage as an “echo chamber.” What I mean is that generally people who participate in ideological blogs (on the right and on the left) don’t go and listen to the counter-argument from the other side of the political spectrum (in fact, it’s pretty hard to do it, because if you have strong partisan opinions, what you hear on the opposite side’s blogs is so offensive you can’t pay attention to the arguments. Those arguments are crafted for the “faithful,” not for “nonbelievers”). I notice that the sources you cite are all from the right. What’s interesting about people’s perception of bias (which certainly does exist in spots) in mainstream media is that people towards either end of the political spectrum are convinced that it is totally biased towards the other side (liberals in Charlotte, for example, think the Charlotte Observer has a right-wing bias). It’s because they are only used to listening to their friends and “media sources” that agree with them. This is not really healthy for a democracy, because in a large, complex society there is always some truth on each side.

  11. Speaking for myself, I don’t want hold a belief that is wrong for partisan reasons. I seek out the truth wherever it is. I cannot imagine finding the truth “offensive” just because it comes from a certain source. I don’t see the world as “believers” and “non-believers”. I believe those who I trust to tell me the truth and those that convince me. I don’t believe that “there is always some truth on each side”. I do think that looking at an issue from each side helps one find the truth, but that’s different. Some sources of news deliberately deceive, some are inept, some are biased, some just try to fan the flames, some are trustworthy, some are respectable, some are interested in the truth some are interested in an agenda. Unless you keep track of all of them it’s impossible to know which is which.

  12. On that, we agree. It is important to be exposed, and it is important to be critical.

  13. Mike: Good question on your show “Why has Charlotte Business Journal taken over the dominant business reporting niche from Observer?” Lame response by the editor – “we do great on the big stories, not so great on everything else.” What a copout. For those of us still paying $170 a year for the print edition, we deserve more. Thanks for your show.

  14. The more I think about this broadcast, the more I realized what I hate MOST about newspapers. It’s local papers taken over by out of town corporations. Howard Weaver did little more than spout a commercial for McClatchy in his responses. A company in California can’t possibly know what’s best for a Charlotte newspaper. Even here in Hickory, my subscription payments for the “local” newspaper go to someone in Virginia. The corporations need to butt out.

  15. Great dialogue here! I echo the sentiments expressed and would like to add a couple of things regarding the past, present and the future of newspapers that were not able to get through on the program:

    1. Past: traditional newspapers have been complacent for too long. Historically, they are often times pushed to adapt but not the first to innovate: competition from alternative platforms – magazines, radio, broadcast television, cable television, satellite programs, the Internet and so on…

    2. Present: Media companies tend to rely on subscription, advertising, or a combination of both. Newspaper, as an industry, is losing both. Although newspaper circulation worldwide has gone up (http://www.wan-press.org/), it’s down about 7 percent in the U.S. for the past three consecutive years.

    People are leaving newspapers: a Reuters’ 2008 survey found over 70 percent of Americans believe traditional journalism is out of touch, and more than half of Americans said that their their primary source for news and information is the Internet. That’s up 10 percent from 40 percent in 2007. Young people, who grew up with the Internet, love freebies and flexibility and are getting their news that way.

    Following audiences, advertising dollars (about $42 billion on traditional newspapers as of 2007) are ditching “dead tree” papers for new media such as Google, Yahoo, Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, job sites, blogs, mobile ads, video ads, etc.

    Wall Street “owns” a lot of the papers. The corporate structure of many newspaper chains makes newspapers answer to their stockholders, not their stakeholders (e.g. communities) although many who work for newspapers do their best to keep their public service mission. Traditional newspapers are not a winning concept in Wall Street’s eyes. Just google the stock prices for the major newspaper chains.

    Downsizing is inevitable given rising costs of paper, printing, fuel prices, dwindling revenues from subscription and advertising. McClatchy is not alone. NYT, Washington Post, LA Times and etc. have also downsized. Quality will suffer. But are “dead tree” newspapers doing enough to keep their heads above water?

    Traditional newspapers have diversified, adding web edition and other services. For instance, the Washington Post Company’s most profitable business is not its flagship newspaper, the Washington Post, or Newsweek magazine, but Kaplan Educational Services, a tutoring program. For good or bad, you decide.

    3. Future: I agree with David and many others who recognize that newspapers sell “news” not “papers.” The move towards online/wireless platforms is somewhat inevitable. NYT’s Arthur Schulzberger Jr. wasn’t even sure his company would put out paper editions any more in 4-5 years and he didn’t care. I think there still will be newspapers for quite a long time but definitely fewer and fewer of them.

    I personally don’t mind the coexistence of professional journalists and avid “unprofessional” bloggers. Good journalism is always valued and appreciated but like wikipedia, accuracy and completeness of information, or news for that matter, eventually emerge through debates and cross-examination. Democracy is better served when the power to truth and opinions is not in the hands of a few.

    Ultimately, in order to survive, newspapers have to ask what the world will look like in 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years; how individuals will live their lives; and how newspapers or news in general will fit into such lives without abandoning the traditional values of public service.


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