Friday, October 23, 2009

Bet on Newspapers?

More Vice Needed!

“In these times when big-city papers and magazines are disappearing and shrinking—The New York Times is cutting 100 more newsroom jobs and Condé Nast is closing four magazines—we need life rafts. Publications once buoyed by splashy ads evoking drinking and sex are now conjuring ways to use drinking and sex to subsidize the news. The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal have wine clubs. Condé Nast has started an online dating Web site for a fee of $30 a month called . . . . Self-described print press ‘fanatic’ Mortimer Zuckerman, who owns The Daily News and U.S. News & World Report, proposed that the federal government could save newspapers by allowing sports betting on newspaper Web sites. . . . ‘Newspapers are so critical for public dialogue and holding public officials responsible,’ he told me. ‘And who’s going to be able to afford original reporting in the next five years? Very, very few.’”
—Maureen Dowd, New York Times columnist, (10/21/09, URL)
(Thanks to alert WORDster John N. Ward)

Editor’s Note: What’s the spread?


  1. Mr. Pease,

    I am curious about a dimension of the decline of news: this decline is offered as a “given” that the economics of news no longer work. That the ad revenues are too low and the users’ willingness to pay subscriptions is too low and therefore the industry is a dead model. Period. QED. Is this really true? Or is it a legend? When the ownership of media has become increasingly in the hands of real estate moguls and stock pirates, it is worth noting that every industry that falls prey to these type of investors ends up pronounced dead, stripped down and sold off. Has anyone really tested the premise? Perhaps it is the double digit profits and year-over-year profit increases in the net which are dead. Maybe there’s still plenty of money in news for well-run locally-owned locally-run smallish scale newspapers run by people who care about the news?

    In addition, it occurs to me that the news industry has spent the last twenty years failing its customers – a decline that began long before Al Gore “invented the internet” – and so the cause of death seems to be quite easy to discern: they put out a crappy product that did not perform its intended function, and so people stopped buying it. It seems to me the death of news really ought not be announced until someone tries putting out a product that actually serves its customers.

    What do you think?


  2. Malcolm:

    Good questions--and worthy of a doctoral dissertation.

    My short answer is that even if newspapers do die (which I doubt), journalism will not. During this period of transition, however, it is certain that a lot of stuff is falling through the cracks. In Detroit, for example, where both major dailies (owned by the biggest of the chains) went to three days a week, there is evidence that the journalistic watchdog is asleep. An allegedly shady developer has been maneuvering to build another bridge to Ontario (I don't really know the whole story); the newspapers have missed it, but a local blog by fired former newspaper journalists broke the story and have been investigating.

    The issue for society is less dependable information on which to make decisions. But, as you ask, were citizens really that well informed a decade or more ago? Clearly, the rise of the Internet and multiple news information sources has hurt the traditional press--print and broadcast alike. But there's also no doubt that diligent citizens can find out more news and information, and be more informed, than ever--IF we are diligent enough to do the legwork that used to be journalists' job.

    Complicated issue. Ultimateely, it's not news businesses in jeopardy, but an informed electorate and participatory democracy.

    Whew. Descending the soapbox now....


  3. Very complicated subject. "Escorts" and "massage" services thrive on the Internet. Used to be in the classifieds of daily papers. Moralistas complained, at the same time demanding free ads for churches! Legalize, regulate and tax the heck out of all of the so-called sins and let God sort it all out.

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. Re: What's the point spread?

    All bets are off. It's already late in the fourth quarter, and we're behind by two touchdowns.

  5. Holy Shit Ted, Grad school or trade school? Perhaps I could tend bar in the NY Times wine club and run a sports book on the sly. Secretly taking photographs of the few remaining paid journalists, as they engage in discount orgies with with the cigar girls in an effort to leech their poverty level paychecks.

    Or can we fix this mess? Are we too old to fix this mess? Do the pups care? We're screwed man, grab the beans and head for the hill. God, I need a drink.