If you’re not a newspaper reader or if you read the paper online, it might seem like the life-threatening problems facing the nation’s newspapers have no impact on you.
David Carr, a media reporter at The New York Times, wrote an excellent story in Tuesday’s paper (yes, it’s online too) that explores and explains the problems newspapers are having as readership declines, ad pages slip and desperate cost-cutting is resulting in cuts in newsroom staffing. Carr makes a good case showing why the newspapers’ problems will impact our lives in a very real way. It’s a lot more than just a preference for getting news as ink on paper or on a computer, Blackberry or iPhone screen.
We’re also seeing the world’s largest and, possibly, most trusted newsgathering organization …. the Associated Press …. under fire and possibly fighting for its wellbeing as many member newspapers threaten to drop their AP membership to trim costs. The AP not only provides newspapers with news content, but it also feeds news to all the broadcast networks, most local TV and radio stations and many online news and information sites.
CNN is about to try to woo newspapers with a newswire service it hopes to offer, which may place further pressure on the AP.
But why should we care about newspapers when there are so many other places to get the news?
Newspapers, except for The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and, to a degree, The New York Times, are local. Daily newspapers, with their locally-based reporters, do a crucial public service by being our eyes and ears in thousands of city halls, police departments and state houses, in school board meetings and in local courts. Fully-staffed newspapers can be all the places most of us can’t, reporting, asking questions and probing beneath the surface. Newspaper reporters, without the pressure to get something online virtually as soon as it happens, have the luxury of digging deeper, searching for more background, getting and filtering comments from involved parties. The resulting stories often do much more than report facts. They give us a perspective to help us better understand the day’s events. As David Carr writes, it’s the reporter whose probing eyes help keep our elected officials honest (or as honest as possible).
So when we read of a 40 percent cut in the newsroom staff at The Star Ledger in Newark and similar cuts in newsrooms at Gannett, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe and many others, it should be clear that the newspapers’ problems become ours as well.
As Carr explains, it’s not as simple as newspapers selling their growing readership online to offset their shrinking readership in print. Print pages bring in a lot more revenue than banners, clicks and other online ads. It’s not even close– so far.
Like everyone on the web, newspapers are trying to figure out how to best monetize their sites. Advertisers and their agencies are also trying to find some formula they can feel comfortable with, be it click-throughs, impressions, ROI.
I don’t have the answer. I wish I did, because aside from enjoying reading newspapers in print, I understand and value the role they play in our society. Whether their content is delivered on paper or online is rapidly becoming a non-issue. Just keeping them alive and functioning as viable news organizations has become THE issue.