Can newspapers reinvent themselves, or are they doomed to irrelevance?

Following in the footsteps of other doomsayers, two respected industry analysts this week proclaimed the ensuing decline, fall and possible death of the newspaper industry. One said the only hope is for publishers to start making their rags highly visual and start tapping the online market in a really big way.

Most every top-20 daily newspaper have recently announced big drops in circulation. A recent survey showed the average newspaper reader is 55 years old and said under-30 readers are disturbingly rare.

Amid a boom in blogging, journaling and broadcast news, can the newspaper industry reinvent themselves, or are they doomed to declining readerships, newsroom cuts, and eventual irrelevance?


I work at a newspaper that is among those that has posted a large drop in circulation in the new ABC audit. However, what we did was to purposely drop the questionable fluff circulation (which was expensive to maintain) for good, solid, real circulation.

Now a few other points:

Most newspapers in this country are doing very well financially (I work for an unfortunate exception, but at least our parent company is still doing well). I don’t have a cite for this, but go to the NAA website and you’ll probably find something there.

This is because, IMO, in most cities and towns there is very limited competition among newspapers. One good example is the one I used to work for, the Oregonian in Portland. It is a regional newspaper that has no significant newspaper competition in Portland, and is subscribed to all over the state (ok, I haven’t been there in a while, so this could have changed, but for illustration purposes…). In smaller communities, the newspaper is the local forum for everything that local people are interested in. It may not be their source for hard news, but it is their source for a lot of other things.

Second point is that newspaper publishers are not stupid. They see the writing on the wall as clearly as you do. For that reason, most larger newspapers are heavily invested in the internet, and are calling themselves communications companies, not newspaper publishing companies. Our website is consistently among the top 5 news sites in the country, based on page views. So they are trying to expand in other areas, and constantly trying to develop new advertising models for those areas to pay the bills.

Third point is that competition with radio and TV is not the problem. For what it can deliver to an advertiser, newspapers are far better at bringing in warm and hot prospects. Radio and TV can deliver some cooler prospects, unless there are too many details in the ad for the viewer/listener to remember without taking notes. And an ad for Tide detergent on TV can work, but an ad for Tide in the newspaper can include a coupon. The real competition now is with the internet, viz. previous paragraph. The real killers on the internet are not news sites but advertising sites like Craigslist.

If newspapers can hang on until technology can free them from the necessity of actually printing physical newspapers on newsprint (that’s the real expense item for us) then they can really be in charge, because they really know how to collect and disseminate news and other information. Think of the scene in Minority Report, I think it was a commuter train, when Tom Cruise’s character is trying to escape, and everyone’s newspaper/video screen changes dynamically to show his photo. This technology is not far off, and I think it will revitalize large newspapers like mine, if it can be made affordable for subscribers.

Whew, sorry to go on so long, but you hit a sore point. I’m trying to hang on in this business until retirement (9 or 10 more years) and it’s a bit nervous-making.

those that **have ** posted a large drop :smack:

And I previewed twice!

Crawls away nursing wounded grammar pride…

Doomsayers always predict the decline of a medium, and it rarely happens. Media tend to go through a period in which they are hugely popular and then they’ll eventually settle in to a lower level of distribution. Take cinema for instance - it will never again achieve the popularity in the '20s, but it’s not going anywhere. The decline of Cinema has been predicted many times, too, and yet, it’s still here going strong. Video didn’t kill cinema, TV didn’t kill cinema, and newspapers aren’t going anywhere.

But a particular form of distribution may fail. Where are 8-tracks and video cassettes today? The internet is far more a threat to newspapers than any other form of news has been simply because it is the same format: reading the news.

I may actually go for it fully when the websites have completely conquered the outside info problem. When I’m interested in more information on an article, I will expect the website to offer me links to that info, whether it is provided by them or not.

That said, damn, there’s nothing to compare to sitting down with my morning newspaper and a cup of coffee. I hope that lasts through my lifetime.

People have been predicting the death of newspapers since the inception of radio and they keep coming back.

I will say that never have the newspapers been as helpful with their own predicted death as they are now with putting out news on their own websites before their papers hit the pavement.

They can have an exclusive story and they put it on their website - why should anyone buy the paper in that situation?

My experience has been that the online version of a given article is often abbreviated, and that newspaper websites don’t deliver all of the content the printed format offers.

In addition, you can’t mask off windows with a website, line a parrot cage with a URL, or twist up a few online pages to get the fireplace going. :wink:

True, but people don’t wipe their butts with pages from a Sears catalog anymore, either.

I dropped my (Sunday only) newspaper subscription. I didn’t find anything in the paper useful to me, and I couldn’t see the sense of paying for news, when I can listen to the radio for free, or hop online for breaking news.

Bloggers have a very exaggerated view of their own importance. They want to believe that they’re going to put newspapers out of business. But the number of people who read blogs is still pretty small, and frankly the writing on most blogs is far inferior to what you get from a quality newspaper.

Yes, but I can’t drag the PC in front of the fireplace late at night, or always be ready when the news program airs on radio. The newspaper sits right there, ready for me when I’m ready for it.

Also, there’s something sensual about turning the pages and seeing what’s inside for today. Not to mention the funny papers! That’s the whole best part of the paper.

I enjoy savoring the reading, the turning of the pages. YMMV. :slight_smile:

I did a project on this question a few months ago.

The short answer is that newspaper publishers are, in fact, re-inventing their business models. Gannett, for example, found a workable niche serving mid-size and small cities, as well as the military; they’re the company that owns and publishes the Military Times papers. Chains are making things more economical by operating bureaus from which their member papers can draw content. Many are also operating other outlets like TV and radio stations, now that the FCC has loosened its ownership rules.

Besides, my local grocery stores no longer accept Internet coupons, and I’ve got to get them from somewhere.


I started regularly reading the newspaper when I was just a kid and I stopped a couple of years ago. I get all of my news on the internet now. When the telemarketer calls me to get me to resubscribe and I tell them my reason, they don’t even have a counter argument for the internet. Twelve hour old news is unacceptable these days.

I have a wireless hub and a laptop in my house and I can easily read the news in front of the fire, in the kitchen while I am eating breakfast and, in fact, while I am taking a crap, just like the newspaper.

I’m curious… can you expand on that? You mean you don’t physically distribute to outlying areas? If you work for the Chron, I’ll give you kudos for having one of the best online editions I’ve ever seen, and have for many years.

I work as an analyst for a major retailer that operates strictly through newspaper and direct mail advertising. We recently got some trending results on circulation from FAS-FAX and it was alarming how much circulation dropped in the top 25 newspapers in our program - about a million pieces altogether.

Previously, I worked for a consulting service that worked with newspapers to help grow their circulation in areas of high value and it was really hard to get through. It’s easy to say that you’re going to stop blanketing the area with subscription offers and to try only for valuable, long-term customers, but when it all comes down to it, you’re just trying to keep your head above water. When the economy started to slow, our service was one of the first to get the axe in all but a couple of our newspaper clients. Actually, my last major, traditional analysis was in San Fran which was great, because I got a free trip there to present it :smiley:

Because not everyone gets their news from the Internet. Everyone doesn’t have a computer, for that matter, and not everybody is a news junkie - they don’t all care if their news is a few hours out of date. I think Roderick has answered this pretty well.

I worry more about network news keeping up than papers.
I keep thinking that network news shows should have lots more topics, like the dozen headlines I get in a newspaper or on Yahoo. Instead, they only treat 3 topics a night, and you have to go elsewhere to get the things people will be talking about the next day at work.

Yes, I work for the Chronicle (no point in being coy, I included so many clues), and thanks for appreciating our website.

By fluff circulation I mostly mean unsolicited copies, delivered for free to households to try to interest them in the paper. Although unpaid, since they were delivered (not just left in a pile to be picked up) they could be counted as circulation. By “real” circulation, I mean those people who want the paper enough to actually pay something for it.

My local paper got gobbled up by Gannet and stopped being useful or well written. Thus my subscription has never been renewed. We still get some free locals and the Asbury Park Press leaves a paper about once a month. (You still won’t get me back). I find it much easier to get my news from 10 different Internet sources than any one paper and I like not having the papers. The only thing I miss is the Sunday Ads.


I didn’t say Gannett newspapers were good, I just said that they’ve got a niche carved out for themselves.


Agreed. Also, look at AM radio: it evolved from music (early 20s), to drama/comedy (20s-50s, until TV came along), to music (50s-70s, until FM stereo came along), to talk. Newspapers will go through a similar process; there are still many things they do better than other media (coupons, for instance).