Clearly, the Sky is Falling for the Newspaper Industry

November 12th, 2008

The title of this entry is pulled from an article in the New York Times by David Carr published ages ago: October 28th. Titled “Mourning Old Media’s Decline,” the piece allows me to create an entry on this blog that summarizes the sorry state of newspaper and magazine publishing, thereby avoiding what was starting to seem inevitable: creating a daily blog on the latest bad news, which I’m loathe to do. The story is the same every day: things are getting worse. When the Christian Science Monitor announced last month its plan to cease a daily print version of the paper many commentators treated this as the hallmark event indicating the imminent death of newspapers. I chose not to comment on it as I think that while it is connected to the broader decline in periodical publishing, the CSM is a special case: a journal heavily subsidized by a well-funded parent organization that had a secondary agenda in publishing a fine newspaper. I think of its status as roughly the equivalent of The Washington Times, founded by the Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon in 1982 (although comparing the quality of the two papers is a different story).

Back to the falling of the sky. To quote from Mr. Carr:

“Clearly, the sky is falling. The question now is how many people will be left to cover it.

“It goes on. The day before, the Tribune Company had declared that it would reduce the newsroom of The Los Angeles Times by 75 more people, leaving it approximately half the size it was just seven years ago.

The Star-Ledger of Newark, the 15th-largest paper in the country, which was threatened with closing, will apparently survive, but only after it was announced that the editorial staff would be reduced by 40 percent.

“And two weeks ago, TV Guide, one of the famous brand names in magazines, was sold for one dollar, less than the price of a single copy.”

I can go on. Everyone can (and seems to) go on. Yes the news is very grim these days. But it’s not only grim for newspapers and (some) periodicals. The automobile industry ain’t exactly thriving.

I still intend to rail against these continuing horror stories at newspaper and magazine companies as definitive indicators of the future of publishing for newspapers and magazines. Until the economy gets back on track we can’t separate the Web from the fact that in a down economy ad-supported publications always suffer. At the same time the carnage this time goes beyond what we would expect in a down economy. My point is that it’s still too early to call the outcome. Just that.