Cold Type

No slug is safe in today’s newsroom

Ten years and counting

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That’s how long 65% of American adults believe newspapers will be in business, according to a recent Rasmussen poll. Another 17% are giving us three years or less. Those numbers are skewed too by the older readers such as myself and my parents because if you only look at adults 18-29 a staggering 83% give newspapers 10 years or less. But hey, wait, 18% also say they think newspapers will be around forever.

I’m thinking 5 to 10 years for some but we’ll see smaller papers and very few delivered 7 days a week. What do you think?

Many pundits say that will depend on three things for newspapers: 1) how much debt they have on the books, 2) how many households they reach or how much market penetration they have, and 3) how well you manage your business, ie, how efficient you distribute print products and/or how well you balance your staff resources between print and digital products.

It’s no mystery that many newspapers and media chains are highly leveraged right now (I know, I work for one that’s filed for Chapter 11) and some may not survive that type of financial stress (at the risk of sounding too optimistic, I think The Columbian will but I can’t deny that I get nervous about the falling circulation and loss of half or more of our classified revenue).

Sadly, those newspapers that don’t survive from their big debtloads may just fold and leave gaping holes in news coverage in some communities, though I firmly believe something will fill in those voids whether it’s TV or online media. The bigger question is how good a job those entities will do at providing the quality journalism we typically get from newspapers, though certainly everyone has their opinion of their hometown rag and might beg to quarrel with me on that point.

In fact, Rasmussen reports that people are increasingly cynical about the reporting done by newspapers, especially The New York Times which has a 24% favorable opinion. The statistic that jumps out of me, though, is that 46% of adults under 40 rarely buy a paper these days. I’m not surprised by this because I know a lot of people who don’t get their daily paper and rarely buy one off the stands. “I read it online,” they say, “or I get my news from TV or NPR.”

They also often say that they can’t see ever taking a paper down the road. They don’t see the value in it. And I think therein lies the biggest challenge of all for newspapers: how do we change the increasing perception that newspapers just aren’t worth $100-$200 or more a year for home delivery or even 4 bits at the newsstand?

Perhaps it’s not so much how we run our businesses, though that certainly helps, as it is how we respond to that challenge.

More and more I’m thinking to myself: It’s the content, stupid.

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Written by coldtype

May 17, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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