I no longer watch national or local news broadcasts, which seem to have deteriorated into cute stories about llamas. The few times I might turn on the set, it’s to see pictures of devastation that NPR’s All Things Considered can’t do justice to. Judging by the commercials – for impotence drugs, and scooters Medicare will pay for – the average age of viewers is somewhere in what they call the “55 to death” category.
Newspapers seem to be faring even worse. My small hometown paper seems to be made up of foreclosure notices with a few news stories. The Oregonian has fewer and fewer pages, and on Friday announced another buyout for 100 employees. On the surface, it sounds like a good deal – two years of pay and two years of health care coverage – but there are NO jobs in the newspaper business. Once you leave, it’s over.
Newspaper and ink account for 30% of the cost of running a paper. And I understand that classified ads used to account for 30% of the revenue. Those have all gone to Craig’s List, which has no need for newspaper and ink. Buy the paper in Seattle to find out what movie is playing near your hotel, and you won’t find the movie ads. They are all on line.
Think how important book reviews are for books. You pick up a paperback and look at the back to see what the critics had to say. But those reviews are being cut back or eliminated. I write one of the few YA columns that I’m aware of in any newspaper.
A friend who works for a newspaper told me that they used to say that there was a certain floor below which subscribership would never fall. Now they believe that floor is zero.
But could there be hope? European newspapers seem to be flourishing? “Experts say European papers are prospering largely because they haven't followed the U.S. path of draconian — and self-defeating — cuts in scope and quality of coverage.” Read more here. [Full disclosure: ironically, I read this article in the Oregonian.]