Saturday, March 7, 2009

News without paper

Two sad items for those in the old-fashioned newspaper business, both from the western US:
  • Denver's Rocky Mountain News is shutting down, for good, "just 55 days shy of its 150th birthday." This leaves the Denver Post as the only mainstream daily in town.
  • The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, already sharing most of its infrastructure with the Seattle Times, has announced that it will cease print publication, reduce staff from 180 to around 20, and publish entirely online. The P-I is only a few years younger than the Rocky Mountain News. To my knowledge it is the first major US city daily to go this route (the Christian Science Monitor made the switch a while ago, but it's not a city daily).
In both cases the problem is economics. Not the global downturn/recession/whatever-we-call-it, mind. Both papers had survived the Great Depression and several other upheavals and panics. The problem is advertising. Competition from online sources is killing classified ads. Nor is moving online an easy option, though the P-I is going to have a go at it, because online ads just don't pull in as much money as print ads used to.

So: Online advertising is (obviously) real. Publishing on line is inherently less costly than publishing in print -- which is why 100+ people in Seattle are losing their jobs -- but even together it's an open question whether this adds up to viable online city newspapers. Or whatever you call a newspaper that's not on paper.

When I travel, I often pick up a copy of the local paper, even if it's a slow news day, just to get a bit of the flavor of the place. Just the name Post-Intelligencer lets you know you're in Seattle and nowhere else. Likewise with the Plain Dealer, Free Press or Mercury News. Even the more common names are quirky. One city's World is another's Globe, one's Chronicle another's Journal.

Papers have been losing flavor for years, though, as more and more of them get bought up by national chains, and again the driver is economics. With this in mind, it's not quite right to say that the economics of online advertising is killing the dailies. Nonetheless, it certainly does seem set to deal a number of death blows.

1 comment:

David Hull said...

Note to self: both the Post and the PI are still in business online.