Editor and Publisher is the primary trade magazine for the newspaper industry, so it comes as no surprise that that the last gasp of righteous indignation, coming shortly before the industry’s inevitable death-rattle, would be announced in their pages, issuing from the hollow mouths of flacks.
The piece below is most likely a press release masquerading as an article, and you can read it in its pristine entirety here. I say pristine because I reprint the article below, with my own comments very obviously interspersed throughout. I think it’s the best way to refute the publishers’ plaintive cries of “There’s nothing wrong here!” and “We ain’t going anywhere!”
I can barely hear them when they yell with their heads buried like that.
Thanks go to a wonderful friend in the industry who sent this to me, who has far higher hopes for newspapers surviving than I.
Newspaper Execs Launch Group to ‘Fight Back’
By William B. Ketter
Published: February 02, 2009 11:55 PM ET
Newspapers and their online offspring combined are more popular than ever imagined and yet media reports nearly always paint a portrait of an industry gasping for air in the digital age.
The “combined reach” of print newspapers and their online counterparts is a considerable number. The Times-Dispatch is getting almost 9 million hits a month. This does not mean that either format is “popular.” As for media reports, all we have to do is look in the pages of the RTD at the local layoffs and the problems occurring at other newspapers. Since my December post about “The Death of the Times-Dispatch,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune filed for bankruptcy, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer went up for sale, Gannett will start requiring their employees to take unpaid vacations, and the New York Times itself got a stay of execution due to a huge cash infusion by a Mexican financier.
This wrongheaded perception (See above) stems from the economic recession that’s affected all advertising-based businesses, and from the myth that newspapers no longer attract the public support they once enjoyed. Myth? MYTH??? Yeth. Well, let’s see. News on the internet is considered free by the public. News on your cell phones is considered free. News on tv is considered free. NPR and radio is free. In an age where people readily admit to watching four or more hours of television each day, yet they claim that “I don’t have time to read the newspaper,” means that there are a lot of overwhelming reasons the industry is dying. 1. the nature of news delivery has changed, and the newspaper industry canNOT keep up, and 2. the public still has to pay for each copy of a newspaper…and prices are still going up as content gets cut.
But the biggest contributing factor to the distorted picture of the industry’s condition just might be us, to paraphrase Pogo, the comic strip character. Pogo? Freaking Pogo? You’re quoting a “funny animal” newspaper comic strip that was laid to rest in 1975? That’s definitely the way to reach today’s audience! Use topical references!
With that irony in mind (Thank you for explaining. Your audience certainly would never figure that one out.), a group of concerned newspaper executives has decided to fight back against the misrepresentation of newspapers and their continuing importance to the public, to the marketplace and to democracy. The name for the grassroots crusade is the “Newspaper Project.”
There’s nothing so successful as originality. “The Newspaper Project.” Hmmm. I never could have come up with that. Maybe it’s still 1975 where these editors’ offices are…
They’ve created a Web site – http://www.newspaperproject.org – that will feature stories and commentary about the value of newspapers, and share tips on how they can cope with the tough times.
Monday, the group will launch a series of print and online ads telling, among other facts, the story of how American newspapers and their Web sites daily reach 100 million people, more than watched Sunday’s Super Bowl. Really, that’s disingenuous. It’s a statistic that means absolutely nothing. Apples and oranges.
The ads will appear in major newspapers (Always a wise move: preach to the converted. But wait — aren’t you looking for a new audience? Oh, right — to do that, you’d have to buy air time on tv and radio…), including the New York Times and the Washington Post, and also in scores of community dailies, including the 89 owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.
“The roar of misinformation swirling around newspapers is deafening,” said Donna Barrett, CNHI’s president and CEO. “We must cut through the noise to set the record straight.”
The group’s message, said Barrett, is straightforward:
— Newspapers are very much alive and growing when you consider the print and online audience together. (When and only when you count them together.)And they talk to far more people than their radio, television and Internet competitors. (The people they talk to is the Boomer Generation and their parents.)
— Newspapers have earned the public’s trust because they employ professional journalists to verify news for truth, accuracy and context, and they are usually the first source of local news.
There are so many things wrong with this one statement that a book could be written about it. Sure, newspapers are generally trustworthy — but that does not mean that people really trust them. Virginians generally regard the Times-Dispatch as the most conservative paper in the state — yet the paper regularly get complaints that it is a left-wing radical publication. This isn’t just the RTD — it’s every paper. Newspapers are not trusted the way the editors want us to believe. Also, newspapers are usually not the first source of local news, but they may be the best and most comprehensive source. Marketing surveys show that newspaper readers (again, aged 40 and older) want more local news in the paper…even to the point of reporting on little Timmy’s Pee Wee football game. Seriously, in the 21st century, can an appropriate venue be created for news like this? Maybe THIS is what the RTD and other papers are evolving into…
– Advertisers continue to invest in newspapers because they deliver results. They still move goods and services more reliably than other forms of promotion.
Advertising is so far down it crashed Media General’s Tampa paper in just one month, with a revenue loss of of $84 million, from which Tampa could not recover. Advertising is down across the country, primarily because of the recession, but also because of the real estate implosion, lackluster auto sales, everything — frankly, advertising is not looked on well by retailers. Especially the newspapers, because it costs so much.
— Newspapers remain essential to our democratic system of government, serving as a watchdog against crime and corruption, and a guide dog for information that allows the public to make informed decisions on the issues of the day.
You know, this is completely true. And I wish that the public cared about it. But the best functions of the newspaper just don’t matter when the mainstream audience is ignoring you. We live in an attention deficit disorder society, and newspapers are perceived as War and Peace. The audience is leaving us far behind and scrambling for the latest technology. Instead, newspapers quote Pogo.
“Newspapers don’t have an audience problem,” said Barrett, who is also president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. “Newspapers have a revenue problem, driven primarily by the recession.” Son, I think your bow tie is tied too tight — you need some oxygen getting to that brain.
In addition to Barrett, leaders of the public outreach campaign include Brian P. Tierney, publisher and CEO of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News; Randy Siegel, president and publisher of Parade Publications, and Jay Smith, former president of Cox Newspapers.
“A lot of people, both in our business as well as media decision-makers, are frustrated with the lack of perspective and the inability to get the full story (about newspapers) out,” said Tierney in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Because journalism is so essential for a democracy, we really need to tell this story ourselves in a more aggressive way. Rather than wait for everybody to get together, an insurgent group of folks decided to do it on our own.”
In doing so, the group said, it is not diminishing the serious challenges facing newspapers, other media and every other business during the current economic ferment. Nah, they’re just glossing over it. Pretend it’s not, and maybe it’ll go away.
“We acknowledge the challenges facing the newspaper industry in today’s rapidly changing media world,” said Barrett. “However, we reject the notion that newspapers – and the valuable content that newspaper journalists provide – have no future.”
Barrett said newspapers are adjusting to the economic and industry conditions, making changes aimed at keeping them profitable and informative. This statement says a LOT about the industry, and what’s wrong with it, from the overall product to upper management. Newspapers do not create and they are not innovative — they are reactionary, bobbing on the wakes that innovators have left behind them.
There’s no question newspaper content and appearance are being reexamined and rapidly overhauled to meet smaller budgets and the changing requirements of the public. Plain and simple horseshit. Oh, they’re changing, with one eye on public demand and the other on the rising costs of production. Seriously, who’s going to lose in this equation? The public.
Management structures and sales practices are also changing, with the emphasis on fewer executives and more soldiers in the trenches. Cutting middle management and getting sales reps to scramble, selling internet advertising first and print second. Why? Because the future is online, and print has no future.
But what hasn’t changed – and what the Newspaper Project wants to burn into the public psyche – is the primary function of newspapers: to inform and to connect readers to the world around them. Can the newspaper do this in the 21st century?
Nobody does that better than newspapers, and because of this crucial function, they expect to weather both the recession and the digital age, despite the media pundits who bellow otherwise.