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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Trump cannot save newspapers

The most exciting presidential race in 36 years whetted the American appetite for news. The first two Republican primaries drew three times the record set by Obama in the 2008 cycle. Donald Trump has excited the American people as no candidate since Reagan.

Despite this demand for news, information, and opinion on Trump, newspaper circulations are down another 7 percent this year.

From Pew:
Cobbling together newspaper data that is less current and available than it once was, Pew estimates that the industry lost 7 percent of daily circulation in 2015 and 8 percent of ad revenues.
More up-to-date surveys of readership provide further cause for discouragement. Pew research in January 2016 found nearly everyone is following news of the presidential race. But only 5 percent said print newspaper coverage in the last week was their "most helpful" source (3 percent local papers and 2 percent national) — by far the lowest among available channels.
A broader study Pew did with the Knight Foundation around that same time found that 20 percent of adults said that they often get news from print newspapers. That was still slightly more than the 18 percent often getting news from social media sites.
But newspapers lagged behind local TV news (46 percent), cable TV news (31), network evening news (30), news websites (28) and radio (25) as a frequent source. When Pew began these studies in 2004, newspapers had a wide lead over the internet and radio and were close to even with TV.
Even as it matures, the digital sector is trickier to measure collectively — especially given what co-author and Pew's director of journalism research Amy Mitchell calls "co-dependence" between sectors. While big platform companies hog 65 percent of digital ad revenues, they depend on traditional news organizations for content. Those organizations, in turn, rely on Google and Facebook and newer platforms like Snapchat and Instagram for distribution.
An inability to peddle newspapers in this atmosphere is like not being able to sell ice water in the Sahara.

What is the problem? Bias? Outdated material before it reaches the hands of readers? A dying readership, as the average reader now seems to be 90?

I say talent. Don't underestimate the role of the drop in the level of talent at newspapers in their demise.

It used to be newshounds went to newspapers. Then in the 1980s, the majority headed for television. Still do. But now some of the best talent gravitates to online outlets, which are riskier but can be more rewarding as that is where the stars emerge. Newspaper wages continue to be low, but as long as there are Social Justice Warriors wanting to change the world, newsrooms will be staffed.

Management comes from the newsrooms. Promoting a reporter to managing editor to publisher is cheaper than hiring MBAs. Of course, you get what you pay for. The bean counters who kept the newspapers afloat are gone.

Newspapers had their chance 10 years ago to transition to the Internet but management refused, and not just at the place I worked. Throughout the trade, managers failed to see their cash cow was about to run dry. Craigslist and others wiped out the classified ads sections. Google ate into the ad revenue, including local ads. Newspaper managers fell for the Righthaven nonsense in which they sued people who linked to their sites. After a judge killed that copyright trolling, most newspapers went into hiding behind paywalls, hoping it would all go away soon.

It will -- in the form of death.

I doubt many newspapers will survive. If you cannot attract readers and ads, and make more money in the Year of the Trump, you might as well close the shop and go into the real estate business.

But I had a nice run as a newspaperman -- 35+ years and a ton of awards. But that was then. This is now. I'm online, publishing books, and enjoying my retirement. Adapt or die.

Sadly for their non-newsroom employees, newspaper managers have chosen the latter.

Coming soon -- "Trump the Press: Don Surber's take on how the pundits blew the 2016 Republican race."


  1. Another issue is that people are sick of being lied to. Most papers are Lefty fests.

  2. There are all the points you make Don, then there is the fact that the media now is an arm of the DNC. Go to the NY Slimes website -- the first thing you see is a picture of hillary. Ack!!

  3. Just proves fewer people are keeping parakeets!

  4. It isn't just newspapers, it's all media. They have completely lost interest in Sergeant Joe Friday's pithy admonition: "Just the facts, ma'am." - Elric

  5. SJWs kill everything they touch. As Elric sez they no longer deal in facts. It's no longer who, what, when, where, and why, it's now total propaganda. Almost all media is the propaganda arm of the Dimocrat Party. Reporters have become stenographers for Dimocrats. Many no longer even try to pretend they are impartial anymore.

  6. I stopped subscribing to the local newspaper years ago. Not so much because of biased coverage but because they kept raising their rates without giving me any more value for my money. Also home delivery was not reliable so about once a month I had to call about a missing morning delivery. Basically they had no customer service focus, so I turned to the internet for my news.

  7. "I say talent. Don't underestimate the role of the drop in the level of talent at newspapers in their demise"

    I agree. My local paper leans unabashedly Left, but what finally got me to cancel my subscription is that after all the experienced reporters retired or were driven off they had only one good, young investigative reporter left on staff. He knew how to write. I've written only two unsolicited fan letters in my entire life, and he got one of them.

    For the bias in reporters I blame equally the J-schools and the trickle-down political bias of the publishers/owners to whose whims the hiring and firing of newsroom staff is never immune. What those newspaper publishers have come to recognize only too late to save their print editions is that the Internet greatly lowers the cost of entry into the publishing business. A good writer with an instinct for reporting and the courage to set off on his own to create an audience of loyal followers doesn't have to have a huge pile of capital to get started on the Internet. Back in the day money served as a bar to entry into publishing; it's what created the great newspaper monopolies. By comparison, the Internet is low-cost. In the news business, the Internet is the monopoly killer. It lets other voices be heard. The potential audience is larger and the cost per page view is lower. Print papers cannot compete with electronic media on the basis of economics but they might compete if they were to offer a product with unmatched professional quality. But that won't happen as long as they choose to insult half their potential customer base.

  8. I gave up my state-wide paper 10-15 years ago when I was down to the Sunday edition, and my local 5-10 years ago. Not too bad on local stuff, but...questionable, and most editorials came from NYT or WaPo.

  9. I find it difficult to open a newspaper these days without immediately going Bulldog Briscoe on it.

    "This stinks! This is total BS!"