The Vanishing Newspaper, revisited

A journalist friend stopped by the house Sunday, and he reminded me of a conversation we had 10 or 12 years ago. He had asked then when I thought the News & Record, where I was editor at the time, would close its doors. I guessed about 30 years.

He asked me yesterday if I wanted to reconsider.

It reminded me of this post in 2011 in which I scoffed at a USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future report, which said 2017 was the drop-dead date for most newspapers.

“Circulation of print newspapers continues to plummet, and we believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest,” said Cole. It’s likely that only four major daily newspapers will continue in print form: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.  At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.”

Four months left in 2017.

Without question, newspapers continue their declines in revenue and readership. Newspaper companies are consolidating, and expanding more into digital-first thinking. For the print reader, the outlook is terrible. Newspapers are thin. Today’s News & Record, covering the third largest city in North Carolina, is 20 pages. News staffs have suffered from 10 years of attrition. News coverage itself is often inconsequential. As consolidation continues, printing often moves off-site so that late news doesn’t make the paper. (High school football games, once a staple of Saturday sports, don’t make deadline.)

Yet, newspapers, both those at the extremes and those in the middle, are still churning it out. Much of that is thanks to advertisers who want to get their messages into the homes. Younger people aren’t reading papers. But for older ones, like me, who like the newspaper habit of scanning and turning pages — they’ll stop the paper when it’s pried from their cold dead hands.

In the 2011 post, I encouraged newspaper companies to finally get their shit together. I hope that those trying new things with digital are successful, but I’m no longer optimistic. Too little, too late and too much corporate emphasis on profit over quality and over community.

As always, when a newspaper dies, the community suffers. I was reminded of that when I saw this tweet.

Andrew Kaczynski of CNN deftly took it apart it with a scalpel:

This is what happens when people aren’t reading newspapers or watching mainstream news on television. They assume crap they read online is true. My friend and colleague Penny Abernathy at the UNC School of Media and Journalism has written extensively about news deserts.

It’s not pretty.

So, back to my conversation with my friend yesterday who asked, “Do you want to reconsider how many years the newspaper has left?”

I said 10 years. He said five. I hope he’s wrong, but I fear he’s right.

It’s scary.


One thought on “The Vanishing Newspaper, revisited

  1. Yeah, I don’t give the N&R another five years. I think BH Media is more than ready to convert that primo downtown real estate into cash and walk the hell out of Dodge.

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