Why are established newspapers crashing faster than expected?

Newspapers, even the most powerful ones, are swaying in the economic winds like creaky old trees ready to crack, and some have already pitched over. What happened? I thought they were supposed to slowly wind down in some sort of a transition to the web.

They are? All the papers here are doing fine, and transitioning to the web reasonably well too - www.smh.com.au is the most popular news site in Australia. What’s your evidence for your contentions that 1/ papers were expected to die but slowly and 2/ they are now dying faster than that rate?

New York Times is in trouble.

I dunno what things are like Down Under, but the New York Times is one of “the” papers in America. If they print it, you can generally trust it. For a paper with the level of prestige as the NYT to be failing, signals big problems with the industry.

The most oft cited reason for American newspapers to be going under is that Craigslist is taking away the highly profitable classified ad revenue. Cite.

Newspaper Circulation Continues to Decline Rapidly

100-year old Christian Science Monitor to stop daily newspaper
Gannett to lay off another 10 pct at local papers

What Tuckerfan said, to a considerable extent.

Classified advertising was a massive source of income for traditional newspapers, and that market is simply evaporating in front of their eyes. It’s not that there are fewer people advertising stuff—in fact, there are more than ever—but that there are far more outlets for classified advertising now, and it’s much cheaper (often free) than it ever was in newspapers.

If you want to see a short (15 min) video on the challenges facing newspapers in the modern era, i highly recommend watching a recent episode of an Australian show called MediaWatch. The show, produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, looks at various media issues, and they had a show on May 5 devoted to the future of newspapers and newspaper journalism.

Go here, scroll down to Episode 12: Wired for the Future, and download the video.

The show actually gives some income figures for classified advertising, and discusses the declining revenue that newspapers are dealing with.

Wonder if we’ll see bailouts in this sector. Some CEO will have a reason I’m sure, and Ben and Henry will oblige.

These are all US examples, although nothing in the OP restricted his claims to the US. But that stipulated, I see nothing in those cites that says they are dying faster than expected - you’d need cites saying “they were supposed to slowly wind down in some sort of a transition to the web”, and that what is seen in those cites isn’t exactly that.

Did the Christian Science Monitor really make most of its income from classified ads?

But the newspapers aren’t successfully transitioning to the web. The NYT has had a strong web presence for a number of years, but they’re doing pisspoor. The “web transition” model would have most newspapers ditching their dead tree editions, but remaining profitable as a web presence, not them completely going away in large numbers. Instead, what we’re getting are newspapers that are folding up entirely, dead tree edition and web editions.

IIRC, readership of newspapers has been declining before the web got a foothold in popular society. The web, and the economic crisis seems to be the instrument of the coup de grâce. IME, the “serious” news content of most papers has been thinning for a number of years, enough to the point that I don’t really care if I read the paper or not. I’m better off getting my news from assorted sources on the internet, than the local paper.

True enough. Newspapwer readership has been declining for decades, and there was a whole spate of failures and mergers in the early 1960s. Back then it was a combination of television news, diffculty in getting fresh news into an afternoon newspaper in a timely basis (and of course rising costs and declining revenues.)

I don’t know that established newspapers are crashing “faster” than expected. But they are having problems using their web sites as revenue generators, and that isn’t good.

The tech pundit projections I’ve seen have all figured on there being a web presence of big newspapers online. So, while a lot of your lesser known papers (ex. the local papers for much of the country) would wither and die, papers like the NYT which are “papers of record” would remain. If papers like the NYT are in trouble, I’m a bit worried. I’d hate for “serious” journalism to be defined by the likes of Drudge.

In Detroit they busted the unions and merged to one paper. I believe it is making money . They want such a huge profit ratio that they fire reporters,cut the paper size and eliminate many columns. That makes it less desirable and the cycle continues. It is not dying ,they are killing it.

Two big factors:

  1. young people do NOT read newspapers. They get their news from TV and the internet. So don’t expect any revival of newspaper reading.
  2. The Internet: why do newspapers allow you to read for free? I read the NYTimes and the Boston papers fro free-why would i pay? Of course, this beggars the question: can an on-line paper make money?
    I give the paers 5 more years (tops)!

Here in Minneapolis, the newspaper had been owned by a local family for generations. But in recent years it has been sold 2 or 3 times, to various venture capital firms. They basically borrowed money against the value of the newspaper to buy it, sucked out what money they could, then sold it again to another such firm.

Thus the paper, which was largely debt-free for decades, is now burdened with a heavy debt load. So they are cutting reporters, printing more ads and less news, dis-improving delivery service, etc. – all things that lead more & more subscribers to unsubscribe. This cycle appears to be something like a downward death spiral.

The newspaper itself is still making money. Just not enough to pay off the corporate raiders who have taken it over. I believe the paper is technically in default on some loans right now, though they are still operating.

And yet Toronto has 4 English-language daily newspapers, 3 Chinese, 1 italian, 1 Spanish…

I know plenty of young people who buy newspapers. Serious newshounds I know buy a newspaper and trawl the net but plenty of my friends will casually read a paper, perhaps not daily, but regularly.
I’m curious, is there any correlation between the decline of newspapers and the rise of private transit? I read a newspaper on my several times a week bus journey to and from work as do many others.

The Detroit papers (News and Free Press) formed a Joint Operating Agreement (in essence, they merged their non-news functions and quit competing on Sunday editions) in 1989 – a long time before the Internet was a factor. They probably could have survived that way for awhile longer, but the owner of the News sold that paper and bought the Free Press. Now both papers are stuck with debt.

Have I heard correctly that how big-city newspapers define “declining revenue” is different, in that they are used to vast profits, the same way dotcoms used to, and nowadays they are only making money hand over fist compared with other businesss?

What I wonder is – all those people who don’t read newspapers and instead rely on “the Internet” to get the news. Where do they think the news on the Internet comes from? Most of the time it eventually leads back to some newspaper or wire service story. So if newspapers go away, what happens to all the reporters to bring the news in the first place?

Second, I’ve not yet found a good substitute for a newspaper for local news.


I’m not sure that’s true. It could well be that these companies are still making a profit, but the key is whether they can make a profit and still keep up the level of reporting depth and journalistic standards that the readers came to expect.

The fact is that running a good daily newspaper is an incredibly expensive task. If you want good reporters covering all aspects of local and regional stories, as well as national and international news, you need a big staff, often with bureaus in other states or countries. Sure, you can rely on the wires for many big stories, but what has set the great papers apart in the past in having their own people doing the reporting.

When papers are forced to cut back due to declining revenue, they cut the most expensive parts of their operations, which is staff. And the first staff to go are often the high-prestige national and international writers, who gave prestige and depth to the paper, but who were expensive to maintain. What happens then is that the remaining staff are asked to do more with less, to do things more quickly. And, as one commentator i heard recently put it, when you take time away from a journalist, you’re essentially taking away his or her ability to do the job properly. Leads can’t be followed up, facts can’t be checked properly, stories can’t be covered in proper depth. Alongside investigative skills and contacts, time is about the most precious resource a journalist has.

Here’s a quote regarding costs and the newer business model, from the video that i linked in my earlier post:

Here in Minnesota, the laid-off reporters from the newspaper created their own website, and write stories for that. They often seem to have better local news stories than the newspapers they once worked for. Sometimes you will see those online stories picked up by the newspapers a day or two later.

But I have no idea how those reporters make money from this.