Friday, February 27, 2009

Newspaper death watch

This morning, the Rocky Mountain News (1859-2009) reported its own demise — which, unfortunately for its employees, was not exaggerated at all.

The closure was announced Thursdays by officials from its publisher E.W. Scripps Co. (Scripps and United Press were founded by Edward W. Scripps, whose widow Ellen endowed numerous nonprofit institutions in San Diego and one of the Claremont Colleges).

The reporters and photographers will get two months’ severance. No word on the fate of business employees, who work for a joint venture with the rival Denver Post (which is owned by the same company as our own Mercury News).

The News was put up for “sale” in December but of course no buyers were found in a declining industry and a town that can’t support two newspapers.
Just to recap the death watch:

Other newspapers up for sale (perhaps under the threat of death) are the main papers in Miami, Austin, and San Diego.

The publisher of the LA Times and Chicago Tribune is in bankruptcy, as is the publisher of both Philadelphia papers. The debts of the New York Times are now officially junk bonds, while Mark Andreessen has started a deathwatch for the gray lady itself.

I was going to try to make by own newspaper death watch, but there’s already a website of that name by former Computerworld editor Paul Gillin. Also, Seth Hettena has a “Newspaper Bankruptcy Watch” category in his blog. So I’ll leave it to them to track the gory details.

As Gillin notes, the newspaper business model has failed. It was killed by Google (which abandoned promises to help newspapers) and other free sources of online news. Hopes of going advertising only isn’t going to work.

In an interview earlier this month, Ken Auletta said:
And if you say, “We’ll do it all through advertising”--well, what if advertising doesn’t cover the cost? Does Facebook make money? Does YouTube make money? Neither of them makes money. They have a great audience, great traffic, but don’t make money. You can build it, and they may not come; in this case, the money may not come. Now, maybe they will: they’re unbelievable sites, and they provide a great service to people. But they’re not making money. And they’re businesses.
Continuing down this path is Controlled Flight Into Terrain. There are only two fixes. The two-part solution has long been obvious:
As Andreessen (and many others) have pointed out, the current strategy isn’t working, so it isn’t risky to try something else given that the alternative is almost certain extinction.

Photo credit: photograph by Joe Mahoney taken Thursday in the Rocky Mountain News newsroom.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"A reader writes...."

I predict that in twenty years, the collectible you will wish you were a completist about will be....

The final edition of every newspaper that failed during the Great News Migration toward electronic publication, circa 2009-2012.

Seal them in airtight baggies and sort them by date, each one announcing its own demise, the ultimate in vanity press. Your kids will appreciate your forethought, as they inherit these rare and yellowing symbols of a once powerful communication medium. (I actually bought football season tickets by delivering same for several years.)

I always thought Ariana Huffington was WAY ahead of her time with her Huffington Post, as I believe that is the format of the future.