Thursday, June 12, 2008

More bad news

The constant complaint of most newspaper readers is the steady flow of bad news: 10-year-old girl shot in gang violence, house guest accused of molesting child, drug bust nets former police chief’s wife. It almost seems as though there’s never any good news in the paper anymore, some barely literate people opine on occasion.

Well, it’s a two-way street, ‘cause there really hasn’t been any good news at the papers recently. The latest round of bad news comes from the Schenectady Daily Gazette, which paired its roster of employees by six this month. The cuts come almost a year to the day after the Gazette laid-off 18 workers, citing decreased ad revenue and waning circulation numbers.

Only this time, the cuts will be a bit deeper. Sources say the Gazette focused half the layoffs from its newsroom. This average is a little above par from the newsroom jobs the paper slashed last year, when the publisher decided to trim its Albany bureau from three reporters to two.

The Gazette’s reporting contingent in Albany took another hit during this year’s round of cuts. Apparently, the paper has finally pulled the plug on its Capitol bureau through the layoffs and a few reorganizational moves. The recent round of cuts ends decades of the Gazette maintaining an inside presence at the state Legislature.

Undoubtedly, the paper’s brass decided the stream of reporting from the Associated Press was far better than covering the intricate nuances of state government as they apply to the Capital Region readership. And why not, either? The AP seems to have a steady stable of Capitol reporters to boil down the news and feed it into five-inch inverted pyramid columns that can be read within the first moments of the morning bowel movement.

Well here’s the problem. The Gazette was one of the last remaining mid-sized dailies to maintain a Capitol bureau. All of the other papers decided reporting on the state government simply wasn’t worth the effort. After all, who really cares what is going on down in Albany? It’s not like anything important happens down there.

The Gazette’s absence will leave the Times Union as the last stronghold standing between the sheet of darkness that is slowly descending between the local news-reading public and New York’s legislators. Word is the TU is considering layoffs as well, even though it seems highly unlikely the Albany paper would touch its stable of Capitol reporters. Sources claim the buyouts the paper offered last month were basically ignored, meaning some TU staffers might soon find themselves walking side-by-side with the most recent Gazette layoffs.

It’s not to say the other folks in Albany don’t keep a good watch of the coop; just they have their own interest that seldom include the areas constituting the Capital Region. For instance, the AP paints most of its news with such broad strokes as to interest papers across the state, not just one region.

So this is just another step in the further dilution of news coming to the doorstep. It’s the next in a chain of small moves seeking to consolidate all sources of state, national and world news into one. Pretty soon, you’ll be hard pressed to find a local by-line on a story datelined anywhere further than down the street, where you could probably get it yourself.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Gazete is a tough one to figure. Their veteran bureau reporters waste so much time on mindless bureaucratic crap, and their podunk bureaus seem overstaffed. A bureau in Colbeskill, but no one in the Capital?

12:33 PM  
Anonymous agphoto said...

i've got a little cred here, having worked on the business side of the NY times, NY post and a few others.

Newspapers, particularly the printed editons are extinct dinosaurs awaiting the arrival of the coroner to pronounce.

It used to be that they could at least count on the solo guy/gal going into a diner who would read so that he didn't have to deal with the human race. Now with laptop/wireless and the trend of newspaper websites opening up the gates to free content (i.e.: post-star.com used to be a pay site, unless you subscribed- which made no sense at all until it's explained to you by an official a the dept. of redundancy dept).

But I digress, you are looking at a "dead man walking" industry.

2:21 PM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Horatio, I thought this might interest you. I copied it in full for your convenience.
If it’s too long; keep it for yourself.


From Today's Slate...


Wal-Mart doesn't know it yet, but it may be the savior that local newspapers have been praying for. The big-box retailer launched a new service without any fanfare last month and dubbed it Wal-Mart Classifieds. It slunk into WalMart.com's left navigation bar, where it still sits inconspicuously—a dozen links from the top of the page without a hint of its brand-new status or its potential power. Its promise is well-hidden; as of now, Wal-Mart Classifieds is a clunky marketplace with spotty listings and a poorly designed interface. But its sorry debut doesn't have to remain its destiny. Wal-Mart can use the tool to liberate newspaper balance sheets from Craigslist—the misunderstood villain of the classified industry.
At this point, it's passé to say that Craigslist has demolished local newspapers nationwide. Newspapers' classified-ad revenues climbed reliably for a half-century, beginning in 1950 and ending in 2000. Once the new millennium arrived, though, expenditures crested and started to fall like a stiff log off Splash Mountain. Last year they declined by 16 percent. Craigslist, meanwhile, watched the plummet from the observation desk, soaking up business (but not necessarily profits). Stripped of their classified revenue streams—which had especially high profit margins—newspapers were forced to start stripping their payrolls.
For years, academics, journalists, and bloggers have used Craigslist as a scapegoat to hide the truth of the matter: It wasn't Craigslist's fault—newspapers simply screwed up. They failed to see the power of the publish-anything-anytime-anywhere Internet, so they fell behind. And once Craigslist found traction, it was off to the races.
These days, Craigslist is such a monolith you would think newspapers would have joined in. But Craigslist doesn't want newspapers stealing its infrastructure. Craigslist is still an island community compared with most of the Web. To use Craigslist, you need to go through its site and manually input your wares for sale. You can't graft your own database into the Craigslist architecture. (This is what's called an API in techie talk.) This forced newspapers to fend for themselves as nuclear winter approached and classified rations were running low.
Funnily enough, Wal-Mart's dominance of the retail market and its destruction of mom-and-pop stores is quite similar to the Craigslist situation. And in an ironic twist, Wal-Mart is now positioned to be newspapers' savior. Wal-Mart's classified service runs on a platform provided by Oodle—one of those Silicon Valley startups with terribly silly names. Oodle recognizes Craigslist's dominance but wants to open the architecture up to partners in order to increase the network's reach (via APIs and other methods). The company partners with 80,000 different sites, according to the CEO, and listings provided by any one of the 80,000 are visible across the entire Oodle network. That means something posted on, say, the New York Post's classified network shows up on Wal-Mart's and vice versa.
In theory, this business model means that everybody wins. Oodle gets more participants in its network, which makes its classifieds more robust and attractive. Local newspapers get to brag that they have listings not only from their own listings but from tens of thousands of other sites on the Internet. The individual sellers get a broader audience, and the individual buyers get more offerings to choose from. This is key: In the commodities market, Oodle needs to compete with eBay's vast inventory, and in the services field (real estate, job listings, etc.), it has to make an indent against Craigslist's market share.
The business model sounds great, right? Alas, there's a snag: Only about a dozen local newspapers have actually partnered with Oodle; the other 79,988 sites are mostly Web commerce and auction players looking for another outlet for their products. In other words, the local classified market is still trying to fight off Craigslist from hundreds of different directions, when what they really need is to form a unified front.

That's where Wal-Mart's deal with Oodle could be a turning point. Wal-Mart is a big-name company that can rally newspapers around one technology and one classified portal. Think about it: When a major celebrity picks one nonprofit to highlight his or her agenda, folks quickly rally around that organization to express their activism. (See: the One Campaign, Save Darfur, Barack Obama).
Wal-Mart certainly qualifies as a celebrity in the world of commerce. Last year, it had enough revenue to be one of the 25 largest countries in the world. Twenty-six million people already come to WalMart.com every month, which makes it one of the biggest players in Oodle's network. Newspapers looking to increase their sales pitch to prospective classified advertisers can say that at least 26 million Wal-Mart customers are among the paper's clientele.
Also, there's an opportunity for Wal-Mart to tap into its rural strengths. Craigslist, with its Spartan layout, city-centered mentality, and questionable personal ads comes across as a product of the urban, young techno-elite. Wal-Mart can be the people's champion, protecting small-town papers and communities from big, scary San Francisco snobs. (Already, Craigslist's current expansion centers on creating new markets beyond its typical urban focal points.) Wal-Mart can use its neighborhood roots to convince local papers to join its (and, therefore, Oodle's) classified network. This is a PR coup for Wal-Mart, which can spin the initiative as its way of investing in local communities—something it hasn't exactly been known for in the past. And that's why it's such smart business for Wal-Mart to enter into the local, online classifieds game in the first place. Protecting the First Amendment is a good way to convince Americans you aren't the devil.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

1:27,

"We haven't had good news in the paper since when?"

Since I deleted your useless off-topic comment from my blog. Cheers!

Shot,

I hadn't thought of it that way, or factored Craigslist into the demise. Rather, I've always felt newsprint suffered from being lead by a generation that grew apart and in different directions than the online generation. When most industries were compelled to change and adapt to new technology, newsprint and the media on a whole stayed the same. The Gazette, for example, only recently discovered how to produce an updating Web site. The blogosphere has been doing that since the goddamn turn of the century and free of charge, nonetheless. Then take the Saratogian, which actually REGRESSED with their Web site and online offerings. These are prime examples of companies who can't or refuse to read the future and continue to pay the price.

Print is not and will never die in its entirety. But until it gets some innovators in the upper echelons of its ranks, there will be a steady downward trend. And I doubt the innovators will elevate the field to what it was during the 1980s and early 1990s.

12:23,

My thoughts exactly. What they're trying to do in a place like Cobleskill is beat up on the smaller dailies and weeklies that simply can't compete with their production or pace. They tried the same model in Fulton and Montgomery County, but now appear to be contracting there too.

agphoto,

I was actually having this same conversation with a colleague. I told her the print will always exist for one reason: What else are you going to bring into the john with you?

Seriously, I don't think the industry is as dead as some suspect. It's in bad shape, no doubt. But so is the whole goddamn American democracy; the news industry is a barometer for how deeply the public sleeps these days; it's the ticker that marks each complacent bastard that cares no further than the flat-screen television set in the living room and the sport utility vehicle in the driveway. When those times come to an end and when an ounce of red blood pulses through the veins of the media, I think you'll see a renewed vitality in the print media.

10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The latest and final season of "The Wire" on HBO did a great job a showing us whats happening inside todays newspaper rooms. Sensationalism is the only way to compete with online information. Why do you think they posted every city employee's and school employees salaries in the paper for the first time ever. They used to just post the highest, but now they took it to another level. Its hilarious, newspapers will be completely dead in 10years!

11:37 AM  
Anonymous phaedrus35 said...

"Its hilarious, newspapers will be completely dead in 10years!"

Sorry, but as long as paper exists, news will be printed on it and distributed. We can only hope the newspaper industry as we know it will be dead-- preferably much sooner than in 10 years. While the powers that be wring every last cent of profit out of the current business model, perpetually weakening the product itself by cutting in the name of "cost savings", the logical next step in the evolution of local news distribution (the internet) gets a half-assed, better-late-than-never investment/commitment.

What's hilarious is that the industry as a whole has failed to put together a business model that can capitalize on the revenue generating potential that comes with being able to publish local, searchable news online in real time...while at the same time sustaining a print customer base.

How many people in their 20s do you know that have a subscription to a paper? How about their 30s? (And sorry horatio, I'll have to make the argument that it is even more feasible to read the news on an iPhone during the morning routine as it is to bring an unwieldy newspaper into the john.)

Yet on the flip side, how many people in their 60s grab their mobile web device to read up on what's happening?

Today's newsrooms have the potential to utilize the resources they have (or HAD) and reach both markets, if only the big wigs would make an honest effort. They had a 200+ year head start on the internet and sat on it, instead of embracing an alternate way to reach more customers. The whole point of the internet initially was to share information, right?

Horatio hit the nail on the head-- our society has become fat, lazy, privileged, and disinterested in real news. Our time and money are pumped into making our lives more comfortable. Why care what's going on in your town when much more interesting "reality" TV is a click away? Who knows, we seem to be on the path to a more difficult way of life that may actually compete with the drama of reality tv...newspapers could make a comeback? "Survivor" takes on a whole new meaning when you're the one trying to survive.

Not to make an excuse for the newspaper industry (since it's their own fault) but it's not easy to transition to an effective online solution when the revenue's all dried up. So I doubt that solution will come from within the industry. But someone, somewhere will come up with the answer.

Dead? Nah, but better? I hope so.

11:30 PM  
Anonymous agphoto said...

I’d like to first salute the intelligent discourse on this subject to date: the McT. Haters and AntiVal clubs must all have been swept up into a Mao-like forced march into the country side which they so richly deserve. Here’s hoping they form a commune in Corinth on the site of the burnt block and do some major penance.

But I digress; it’s time for me to widen the case for newspaper = soon future morte`.

For the record, the John issue: here we teeter on the sophomoric, let me push us over the cliff by stating that I watch Robin Meade on my flat screen. And no, girls, sorry- no web cam. I also wave to Katlyn Barto and her traffic reports, and thank God I have a lifestyle where it doesn’t matter.

The fact is: the pure age demos are a runaway domino train against all newspapers—and it’s heading right at ‘em.

Back in the day when we cared about them, our lawmakers put forth things like ‘joint operating agreements’ to attempt to forestall the rise of major markets that were served by one daily. If you look at the outcome, these monopolies exist in several top-25 markets today. And people don’t even care anymore.

(Side note: Another quirky fact is that the Capital Region, at market size #77 - and shrinking! – is an unusual market in that so many dailies even exist- robust or otherwise. So the case could be made that we are a newspaper loving market. A perfect test case for the vibrancy of the industry. So when they start dropping like flies you can tell them where you heard it first.)

But I digress again. Could you imagine that anyone would initiate anything like ‘save the newspapers’ legislation today? How about in the next generations’ time? For this industry? That they don’t even use?

And finally, the whole issue of :

“…as long as paper exists, news will be printed on it and distributed.”

It doesn’t. We should be using our precious resources for things like alternative fuels. A short poem

I’d rather find a way to make gas out of sap,
Than have the Saratogian in my lap.

Checkmate.

I stick to my guns and say that you will see major declines in this industry within the next presidential administration, probably sooner. Sorry to my friends who still work there.

Thanks for reading.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"While the powers that be wring every last cent of profit out of the current business model, perpetually weakening the product itself by cutting in the name of "cost savings", the logical next step in the evolution of local news distribution (the internet) gets a half-assed, better-late-than-never investment/commitment...."

I'm still trying to figure out what this means. If you're going to make comments on a business model, please provide some hard, fast numbers. Please provide more depth of understanding.

The reality is newspapers have failed to realize the business model cannot work without subscription revenue and have failed to find a successful replacement for it. How stupid is is that some of the most profitable areas in this country, in the Northern Virginia marketplace, where the average salary is 100,000, get free print papers? Even when newspapers are handed the opportunity to make money, they turn a blind eye. They wouldn't see creative ways of making money if it hit them in the f*ing forehead. And there's this attitude that the reason shit is hitting the fan now is because newspapers are making cuts. If they don't make cuts, to make up for their lack of money-making ability, they'll all be out of business.

Newspapers historically have not had business people running their organizations, within their organizations. Publishers these days need to be business savvy; they must be and they're not. They're writers. In order to change the future of journalism, we need some people committed to the love of the craft while at the same time with the competence to understand how to fix the model! Or at least have some creative ways/ideas/commitment to fix it. Landmark Communications is one example of an organization that has a wide range of revenue streams (and one that's succeeding). The Weather Channel, telecommunications, data centers, tons of newspapers--this diversification of businesses within an overall organization may indeed be the answer, if the revenue gets spread evenly across business units. The problem is you know that's not the reality.

We can't be stuck in the past--thinking about what we were in the 80s. The newspaper landscape does not resemble what it was 30 years ago. Being stuck in the past seems just as problematic as this great disconnect between the types of people who are capable of fixing mismanaged cash flows and business failures in the context of finance and the people who truly know the interworkings of journalism. The question is how do you get these two groups of people to the table to start talking about a realistic solution? There needs to be strategic long-term planning solutions, not these random bandaid fixes they're incorporating now. Journalism doesn't know who it wants to be, who its future market is, what of the past it should hold on to, what of telecommunications it should incorporate to make its readership more educated (isn't that afterall the mission, not bullshit sensationalism?).

5:16 AM  

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