by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Angel Fire, N.M.
October 15, 2007
THE 'ROCKIES' ROAD TO NEWSPAPER OBLIVION
ANGEL FIRE, N.M., Oct. 15, 2007 -- The survival of the newspaper industry around the globe could depend on things as simple as one baseball fan, and as complex as the explosion of all-digital technology and media.
The baseball explanation is as easy as opening this morning's Albuquerque Journal and seeing an Associated Press dispatch from Denver, reporting that the hottest team in playoff history is one win away from its first World Series.
The newspaper, which is still carrying its own reporter's bylined story stories three days after the hometown University of New Mexico won a game up in Laramie, Wyo., does not cover the NL playoffs. The Laramie dateline and a hometown reporter are visible. Coverage of the Colorado Rockies is left to a lame and uninspired wire-service dispatch.
Depending upon where you live in New Mexico, your closest major league team is the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Colorado Rockies. Duh? They are playing each other! The outcome will determine who wins the National League pennant. Even the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, the premier farm team of the once-Cinderella fellahs the Florida Marlins, get more local coverage.
Readers now get fewer domestic bureaus, fewer Washington staffers (if any), virtually no overseas correspondents or bureaus, a smaller "news hole" and fewer local and regional editions. You might get the City Council coverage, but hardly ever the zoning board and school soard and planning board - especially if they meet the same day or night. If there are five, or eight, or 18 municipalities in your coverage area, what then? Virtually no local coverage.
"Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die," was the 2005 headline on a blog by Jay Rosen called "PressThink, Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine." The headline referred to a Columbia Journalism Review essay by Phillip Meyer on "Saving Journalism" in which he prophetically hoped that some remnant of muckraking, socially responsible, objective journalism would find "a home in some new media form whose nature we can only guess at today."
The "...Gently Down to Die" eye-catching headline was the blogger's way of using Craig Newmark, the force behind "Craigslist," as the poster child for the age of change in newspapers. Rosen correctly pointed out that Craigslist had changed the nature, format, and profitability of many daily newspapers' classified sections and hit the papers right in the bottom line.
He quotes Newmark as saying, "My guess is that either me, personally, or my Craigslist team, will promote work which merges professional and citizen journalism along with more fact-checking and more investigative journalism."
In the two years since that quote the veracity and ethics of sites such as Craigslist have been called into question, but not the magnitude of declining profits in all but a few markets and newspapers.
When I subscribe to London's Financial Times these days - in one of the areas where they do not guarantee same-day, early-morning delivery, it is only for their weekend edition. The paper I get Saturdays, or sometimes Mondays in my post office box, has more culture, art, food, lifestyle, poetry, and literature than financial news. However, in this former reporter and editor's opinion, it is the single best written, edited, and poignant daily publication written in the English language, the New York Times included.
But whether by paid subscription or free browsing, I click on the the Financial Times when I want to see what the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and CNBC-TV will be reporting tomorrow.
My AT&T cell - not a Blackberry or any other fancy device - for an extra $9.95 a month gives me to access AOL email, text messages, photos and video clips from almost anywhere in the world. In those areas where my email does not function, I can usually still punch in a favorite "URL" address. Two days ago, while a passenger in a car still 10 miles south of Taos, atop a 7,000-foot mesa above the Rio Grande, I was reading the tiny headlines and more complete details of CNN and Financial Times stories on my cellphone.
For the first time in years I subscribe to no daily newspaper. They drive past my house en route to a few stores with newspaper vending boxes each day, but they don't actually have "home" delivery in my part of the United States.
Two local weekly newspapers win annual awards for local news coverage. They are owned by the same publisher and the larger Taos News is the newspaper of record for the region and includes extensive sections in Spanish. Closer to me, the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle makes lame attempts at local coverage with a skeleton staff, but gives those who care the local school sports results and recreational golf scores and soccer results.
NewsCorp. and other media giants are gambling that expanding newspaper holdings, contracting the number of newspaper owners, and performing staff triage for a weakening journalistic product will nonetheless give them an inside track on the ancillary benefits of newspaper ownership: symbiotic tv, radio, Website, online newspaper, and especially online advertising sites.
An upstart employment site called Jobfox.com this week could not wait to put out the list of scheduled earnings reports for McClatchy, Gannett, Dow Jones, and other newspaper/media companies over the next week and predict lousy third-quarter results. In its efforts to prove that competitors CareerBuilder and Monster.com have hitched their stars to failed newspaper-style marketing schemes, Jobfox CEO Rob McGovern proclaimed, "This has been the newspaper industry's swan song for the last decade ... traditional job boards are now losing share to more innovative approaches.
"The old 'look how great we're doing with online advertising' argument is no longer holding water for the newspaper industry. The reality is that traditional newspaper job boards are losing their luster for professionals and recruiters," McGovern says. CareerBuilder is now part of a job board "engine" owned by Tribune Co., Gannett and McClatchy, while Monster is a New York Times partner.
True, employment classifieds are only one piece of the puzzle that is the troubled newspaper industry, but despite antiquated delivery systems, the greater accessibility of Internet listings and even competitive 24-hour local cable classifieds, they are still a bellwether of publishing fortunes and failures.
Search-engine goliath Google is perhaps the ultimate newspaper competitor. A search of "newspaper profitability" stories today produced results such as reports that Beijing media profits are down due to slackened real estate demand and disappointing promotion of the Chinese Open Tennis Tournament; that newspapers in China are expanding in size and number but declining in profitability; that Fairfax, the largest Australian domestic publisher, reports annual net profits fell 7 percentl; and that the American Journalism Review says newspaper earnings are at the lowest point since the 2001 recession, when revenue dropped 6 percent and profits slid more than 26 percent.
Analyzing media's ills is like calling balls and strikes from the mezzanine - a subjective pursuit at best. One could easily dismiss my pessimism as the opinion of one who still finds baseball more appealing than football, home and nearby teams more interesting than distant teams. People like myself who travel to Denver a few times a year for cheaper airfares, professional sports, haute shopping, concerts, or fine dining might actually expect a local sportswriter to cover the streakiest, luckiest, and winning-est late- and post-season team in recent professional sports history. It's just my prejudice.
But from an investment and macro-financial point of view this
final thought: In my lifetime I have gone from reading four, five, or six daily newspapers to none; seen three teenaged kids in my family toss aside the news sections but fight over high school sports results and features to read about their schools, their friends, and themselves; and, lastly, I don't know a single kid who has a paper route.
Investment executive and former UPI newsman Mark Scheinbaum landed his
first editorial job at age 14, and earlier had a paper route seven
days per week in a Brooklyn, NY housing project.