Printing Impressions

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Newspapers See Writing On the Wall --Cagle

March 2009
Bits and Pieces

REPORTS OF the demise of newspapers may not have been exaggerated after all. In fact, I’d go as far to say they’re underestimated.

The newspaper industry has long cried poor, living off thin margins for years, yet plugging away in the name of all that is sacred. No one enters journalism believing they’ll make a comfortable living.

This is noble work, carrying on the legacy of Joe Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst and Adolph Simon Ochs—the Peace Corps of media. There is a hardscrabble dignity that accompanies the profession, a respect and notoriety that are factored into the remuneration.

That may not be the case for long. The American newspaper is sick, and a famous name is about to die on center stage, raising awareness to a problem that may no longer be fixable. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, owned by the Hearst Corp. and an ongoing concern since 1863 (when it was the Seattle Gazette), is now on the clock. If a buyer isn’t found this month, or if movement toward a deal hasn’t transpired, then the paper will stop the presses. It has a staff of 170.

Despite having a robust weekday circulation of 117,000 in a major U.S. city, the paper has endured operating losses since 2000, capped by a $14 million hit in 2008. An online version of the paper could continue, with a considerably smaller staff, Hearst Corp. told employees in its WARN letter.

The Seattle newspaper is not alone in these struggles and, as this modern depression intensifies, many more titles will break rather than bend. The Philadelphia Inquirer, which I can see outside my office window, is cut to the bone staff-wise. A friend who works in the Gannett chain was forced to take an unpaid week’s vacation in the first quarter of 2009, as were all employees of his paper. 

According to American Journalism Review (AJR), the population of newsrooms decreased by 15 percent in 2008. That’s three times the high water mark since AJR has estimated the workforce during the last 30 years.

The Internet is burning the newspaper, and the economy is providing the match. General interest titles like USA Today are doomed to be laid to rest, and quite soon. The New York Times, the yardstick of U.S. journalism, recently enjoyed a much-needed major cash infusion from a new investor. But where is the savior for the Post-Intelligencer?

 

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