Saturday, February 2, 2013

This is the end

We're living through it, folks. The end of the newspaper business as we know it.

There's no way to stop the rapid death of printed newspapers and the slow decline of journalism overall, so we might as well embrace it as a moment in history. Within a few generations, newspapers as they exist today will cease to do so.

Two recent developments provide evidence of their demise. Okay, this first one is not recent - it happened in May 2012 - but I just heard about it recently during a January 2013 '60 Minutes' report (watch it here). The New Orleans Times-Picayune cut back to 3-day-a-week print publishing. Of course, the owners of the Times-Pic spun the story linked above to focus on "beefed up online coverage," but the real story is the loss of a true daily newspaper. I've been there before: my former employer, the Kansas City Kansan, cut back from five days a week to three, and we spun it the same way. Of course, it was easy to see through the guise. Within a year, the Kansan's print existence came to an end.

The saddest part: New Orleans became the first major metro area without a daily newspaper. How much longer can Kansas City and the KC Star avoid this fate?

The other development: The Washington Post is considering selling its downtown-DC headquarters, including its world-famous newsroom, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Bernstein (left) and Woodward in happier times for the newspaper business.

This doesn't necessarily indicate anything about the fate of the Post. Presumably, the newspaper will be able to put out the same product in another space than it does in its current one. But the reason behind the possible move is the real problem. The newspaper employs 600 people now, down from 1,100 ten years ago. A smaller staff means smaller papers. Smaller papers mean less satisfied readers. Less satisfied readers mean a smaller circulation. Eventually, that leads to the death of a newspaper - and don't think a paper like the Post, considered one of the best in the world, would be exempt.

For the record, I still subscribe to two print edition newspapers: The Kansas City Star, and the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. In my little KCK neighborhood of about 25 or 30 houses, I think there is only one other house that subscribes to the Star. Twenty years ago, I'm sure nearly every house on the block took the Star, the Kansan or both.

The only other surviving subscriber in the neighborhood? An elderly widow in her 70s who doesn't own a computer.

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