Why newspapers are here to stay

Published 7:34 pm Thursday, May 7, 2009

By Staff
To social theorists predicting the collapse of newspapers, we’ve become more than an endangered species. We’re prime evidence of the fading way the public consumes information.
Day-by-day, they argue, can no longer compete with minute-by -minute. The popularity of instant stories about crime, conflict, crackpots and celebrities prove it. No time to wait and read what the news means.
The result, these critics conclude, is a print industry going the way of the dodo bird.
But is that what’s truly happening?
Have news consumers become so impatient they no longer need nor want a little thought or judgment in their news of the day? Are newspapers, with their traditional appeal of reflective content, condemned to perish by a time-pressed public?
That may be true only to those misguided souls who accept this shallow sentiment about the state of the newspaper industry, and devalue the importance of local news and advertising content to readers’ lives.
Hard evidence tells a far different story, one that shows Americans still treasure reading newspapers. Consider these specifics:
So how did the wrong-headed attitude about the present and future fate of newspapers develop?
The answer lies in the financial history of the newspaper business.
Consolidation flourished. Led by Gannett, group ownership became common. So did lots of bank debt.
Not a problem. Until the Internet — and especially free online classified advertising services such as Craigslist — began siphoning gobs of revenue from traditional newspaper sources. Then the great recession struck, making matters worse by causing a precipitous drop in advertising revenue for all ad-based businesses.
Newspaper companies reacted quickly by reducing people and paper, the industry’s two main cost items. That included trimming an expensive and yet necessary department to their survival: the newsroom. Doom and gloom stories about cutbacks and the death of newspapers spread fast and far.
This is no different than what other industries are currently going through. And it is also not a new experience for newspapers. They have been buffeted by economic uncertainty in the past, especially in competitive markets, and some papers did not survive.
But the newspaper industry did. And it will again if it doesn’t stray from its primary purpose: providing news and advertising content that readers want, need and find useful.