Sunday, July 13, 2008

How Newspapers View Their Decline

From the Instapundit comes the following reader letter, with a revealing look at how at least one newspaper sees itself in the current media world, and its explanations for what's going on:
My son recently interviewed for a job with a newspaper that is a part of one of the large chains. What he learned from the interview, which lasted 80 minutes with both the Executive and Managing Editors, points to a divide that I think is worth noting.

This paper produces a wide variety of niche products. The figure that they reach about 80% of their region with one of their products. The products are focused on parenting, retirees, entertainment, etc, as well as online and print versions of the daily paper. They are making money.

One of the explanations for the demise of the print edition of the traditional newspaper that they gave him was the change in the demographics of the community. They told him that increasingly people move there, spend a few years, and move elsewhere. They don’t move into town and take up an intimate concern for the community. They find that the percentage of the local population that is engaged in local issues is shrinking, and therefore the numbers of people who are interested in a newspaper is shrinking. As a result, the problems of local newspapers are the connected to the problems of local communities. May explain why the quality of people who run for local public office is so poor.

My guess is that many of these old traditional newspaper companies don’t have the resources nor the capacity to shift to a multi-product format. Hence, they are tied to the past, and the past is passing away. Of course, nature abhors a vacuum, and it will be filled by some form of information retrieval system.

The Commercial Appeal is shifting to the online world, but they seem tenaciously tied to their print product. I can't name the number of times they demonstrate a strange cluelessness about how to work their web product. Stories don't always have links to original sources or to the related websites. They don't always put up copies of documents mentioned in stories. More than a few reporters and editors just don't seem at all familiar with the internet; they seem to subordinate good web practices to the needs of making a profit from the paper version.

The CA has been pretty lightly touched by the steep circulation declines common to the rest of the industry. I'm not sure why that is, as most everyone I talk with complains about the quality and focus of the paper. Any thoughts?

No comments: