Just a month ago, Detroit’s two dailies, the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, announced they would reduce home delivery to just three days a week. Except the mildly profitable Thursday, Friday and Sunday editions, non-delivery days will see truncated content.
This month’s Atlantic examines the plight of the NYT, and sketches out doomsday scenarios for the paper. The upshot? Though unlikely, the NYT’s paper edition could fold as soon as May 2009.
These cutbacks and death of the newspaper nightmares, however, pale in comparison to the actual and sudden death of Seattle’s Post-Intelligencer.
Reporters and newsroom staff were told to gather for an announcement midday on Friday where they were told that the P-I would be put up for sale by parent company, The Hearst Corp.
The chances of a buyer for the troubled paper are extremely low, and no one really sees a print edition remaining on the table if one did emerge.
For all intents and purposes, staff were told that the 146-year old paper will cease production within 60 days.
Many are discussing the move from paper editions to online editions, but it seems unlikely that web-based newspapers will be able to generate the amount of content (and more importantly, the quality of content) delivered by today’s newspapers.
The P-I’s article on its demise notes that a web edition of the paper would not be able to maintain the staff of the print edition. Hirschorn’s Atlantic article estimates that a web-only NYT would be forced to cut staff by 80%.
Outside of media professionals, few are making a fuss:
If you’re hearing few howls and seeing little rending of garments over the impending death of institutional, high-quality journalism, it’s because the public at large has been trained to undervalue journalists and journalism. The Internet has done much to encourage lazy news consumption, while virtually eradicating the meaningful distinctions among newspaper brands. The story from Beijing that pops up in my Google alert could have come from anywhere. As news resources are stretched and shared, it can often appear anywhere as well: a Los Angeles Times piece will show up in TheWashington Post, or vice versa.
That’s from the Hirschorn article, which I highly recommend. Also recommended is Eli Sanders’ evocative and sad posting on the P-I’s demise over at The Stranger.
There are many legitimate complaints about today’s newspapers (and god knows if you read this blog, you’ve heard many of them - and probably some illegitimate ones, too), but I would argue that they retain importance for our culture.
Without waxing overly romantic, newspapers provide us with a tangible, tactile record of our experiences. Holding the front page on November 5, 2008 is something no screen capture can replace. And while I get much of my news from the internet these days, reading the paper with a cup of coffee is a friendly, subtly comforting experience.
Newspapers have dug themselves some serious holes, many of which are destined to become graves in the current financial environment. The P-I is the first in what I fear will be a long line of papers to fold this year.
Best of luck to the staff and families of the P-I.
Update: The NYT’s communications dept takes issue with Hirschorn’s assessment.
Update II: Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan pushes back against the NYT’s letter, including some analysis of the NYT’s financial situation. Gawker also notes that the NYT’s online component would have to increase traffic sevenfold to survive without its print component. It already has the fifth highest traffic in the interwebs, so that kind of a jump seems unlikely, if nigh impossible.
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