Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Death of the Daily Newspaper

Yesterday, bottom of the fold on the front of the business page, was a story more illuminating than most of what was found on the front page. In "New York Times Study Calls for Rapid Change in Newsroom" Sydney Ember discusses “Journalism That Stands Apart," the Gray Lady's assessment, known internally as the 2020 report, of how it can survive in a digital age when it continues to hemorrhage print ad revenue:
The report comes at a particularly sobering time for the legacy media industry. The steep and continuous decline of high-margin print advertising has led to significant financial challenges for most newspapers, which in turn are cutting costs and trying to find new revenue sources.
News organizations, including The Wall Street Journal and Gannett, have made significant cuts in staffing; The Journal is currently conducting a newsroom review similar to that of The Times, called WSJ2020.
Among the other recommendations in The Times’s report were reducing duplicative layers of article editing, and having visual experts play “the primary role covering some stories” — part of an urgent call for more visual journalism. The report also calls for a renewed focus on diversity within The Times as a way of ensuring that the paper’s journalists “reflect the audience we seek.”
“The world is changing really rapidly,” David Leonhardt, a columnist who led the group’s work, said in an interview. “We have to keep up, and even get ahead of it.”
The key to survival for The Times appears to be more of the same -- layoffs and greater Snapchatesque digitalization.

A great deal of Ember's article was taken up with the coming cull of editors at the paper, with a hint of the funereal gloom of front-line staff:
Within The Times’s newsroom, where the impending staff cuts have some employees on edge, the report did not satisfy those looking for specific guidance on their future.
Several employees said much of the report merely confirmed many of the initiatives that were already underway. Some expressed frustration that the report did not provide details about layoffs and that there was little information about how individual departments might be altered or how specific jobs might change.
Instead, the report emphasizes The Times’s strengths and lays out a series of broad recommendations intended to ensure the company’s survival for years to come. Mr. Baquet [executive editor] said the goal was to put in place as many recommendations as possible this year. Several of them have been introduced, including the creation of subject-focused newsroom teams and a restructuring of the copy desks.
Most important, the report affirms The Times’s commitment to its subscriber-based revenue model, a departure from many other publications, both traditional and online, whose businesses are built on page-views, visitors and clicks.
“We are, in the simplest terms, a subscription-first business,” the report says. “We are not trying to maximize clicks and sell low-margin advertising against them. We are not trying to win a page-views arms race.”
Herein lies the contradiction for The Times. Without seeing a profit & loss statement, my guess is that the Gray Lady is excessively dependent on the revenue from her print subscribers; that the revenue from digital subscriptions pales in comparison. Yet the 2020 changes outlined will diminish the printed product while pushing more resources online, meaning the foundation of the company's business model will continue to erode.

If I am to take my apartment building as an example, I would have to say that there are as many subscribers to the print national edition of The New York Times as there ever have been, at least since I have been here (spring 2002). There are two -- me and a transgender person my age -- on my side of the building, and I think two on the other side. (What I don't see are nearly as many copies of the local daily.)

The death knell for The Times is that young people don't read newsprint. They read their phones. When my neighbor Carla and I age out there will be no one to take up our subscriptions.

I give the daily newspaper in its present form 20 more years. In the next two decades digital corporate ad placement will become increasingly inseparable from regular newspaper columns and features, the content of which will be almost entirely of government origin.

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