End of the Print Newspaper?
John K. Hartman
Al-Jazirah Newspaper Chair for International Journalism
King Saud University,
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Jan. 13, 2009 REVISED BASED ON PRESENTATION
John K. Hartman,
Professor of Journalism
Central Michigan University
Mount Pleasant, MI, U.S.
ROUTINE AT END
Here’s my routine
and the routine of millions of other residents of the United States of America.
Put some cold
water on my face.
Wash down a
vitamin pill with a glass of water.
Put on my bathroom
and some slippers.
Walk to the front
of my driveway – in my case with my 77-pound blonde labradoodle dog in tow – the
kind of the dog the Obamas are thinking of getting -- and pick up the copy of
today’s newspaper that was dropped there in the middle of the night.
Return to the
house, drink a glass of orange juice, toast and butter a bagel and put some
peanut butter on it (protein), pour a cup of coffee with cream, take the bagel
the coffee and the newspaper to a comfortable chair, turn on the light, elevate
my feet, put some soft new age music on and spend the next 30 to 60 minutes
reading the newspaper. Just and what has been described as the “morning
friendly,” the daily newspaper.
Now I admit to
more of an attachment to the newspaper than the average person. I used to work
for newspapers. In college I was sports editor and editorial page editor. After
graduation, I was sports editor for a 6-day-a-week newspaper in my hometown of
Ashland, Ohio, for three years. Later I was a copy editor of a major
metropolitan newspaper in Toledo, Ohio, for more than four years. When I read a
newspaper, I sometimes imagine what went into putting out the paper that day and
wonder about how the headlines were written (my specialty) and the paper
designed (not my specialty). But first and foremost, I want to know what has
gone on in the local area, state, nation and the world in the last 24 hours, I
want to know what is upcoming that I might be interested in – including news and
sports programs on television – and I am looking for wise, clever, even funny
columnists and cartoons and, yes, I confess, I am curious about what has
happened in the world of entertainment, because, like it or not, most of us have
a “media life,” a fantasy existence, along with our real life, even hard-bitten
journalists and hard-bitten journalism professors.
I cannot imagine a
world without print newspapers. I cannot conceive of my own world where there is
no morning friendly to pluck from my driveway and read cover to cover before I
face the rest of my day. If newspapers go the way of the dinosaurs, become
extinct, it would be great loss for me and everybody else who cares about what
is going on around them, and that includes you, my distinguished audience. It
would also be a great loss for the millions who do not read a newspaper, but who
should. It would be a great gain for those who would like to manipulate us, like
unscrupulous politicians and business people, who would cheat and steal and make
bad decisions with impunity if newspapers were not watching them and reporting
on their foibles.
In recent years,
as the internet usurped the news distribution mantle, I tried to remain loyal to
print newspapers, assiduously reading one or more of them before looking up the
news on the internet in the morning. But a funny thing happened on my way to
“perfection,” I found out with increasing regularity that there were overnight
developments and breaking news that I wanted updates on and I knew full well
that the morning newspaper, that was 8-to-10-hours old before it landed in my
hands, would not contain those new overnight development. Hence, I found myself
dialing into the internet more and more often before completing my reading of
the print newspaper. Sometimes, if the lure of breaking news was compelling
enough, I would consult the internet before even opening the print newspaper.
If the lure of the
internet can get to me, a 63-year-old journalist turned journalism professor and
disturb my print newspaper habit, imagine what the internet can do to
internet-savvy younger folks with little or no attachment to print newspapers.
ability to cover breaking news and to instantly update the news every minute,
infinitely, if warranted, is only part of its advantage over print newspapers.
There are no space limitations like there are on a page of newsprint. It has
been said that the internet has an infinite next button. Color and design
possibilities are much grander. And then there are audio, video, animation,
blogs, and 2-way communication to name a few benefits that the internet offiers.
It might be said that the internet is newspapers, magazines, radio, television
and telephone all rolled into one.
The signs of wear
and tear have become obvious in the print newspaper industry, once the most
powerful and lucrative medium for news and advertising in the United States of
America, but not any more.
The stock of
Gannett, publisher of USA Today, and the largest newspaper company in the U.S.,
has fallen to less than 10 percent of its value 5 years ago. The company has
laid off 25 percent of its journalists and other employee categories in the last
5 years. The stock of the New York Times Co. has dropped $30 a share. It is
mortgaging its new headquarters and selling its interest in the Boston Red Sox
to maintain its cash flow. News Corp, run by international media entrepreneur
Rupert Murdoch, who recently purchased the New York Times, is selling in single
digits. McClatchy, who bought the once proud KnightRidder, has seen its stock
fall to $2 a share. JournalRegister Co., a mid-sized newspaper company and owner
of the Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Sun, where Central Michigan University is
located, has seen its stock plunge to zero and faces imminent bankrupty. The
mighty Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times among
other major U.S. newspapers, filed for bankruptcy protection on Dec. 8. Others
may follow. Beyond losing paid subscribers ( a source of 20 percent of their
revenue), the newspapers are hemorrhaging advertising as the United States
slides into a deep recession and three staples of newspaper advertising revenue
decline sharply: real estate, automobile and job ads.
complicated by the fear that all 3 major U.S. automakers are facing bankruptcy
and that 2 of them (General Motors and Chrysler) may go under in spite of the
massive government bail-out..
As the 21st
century opened, the newspaper industry became stymied as the internet became the
first and best choice for news. The newspaper industry’s annual revenues began
to fall instead of the modest growth rates it was used to. The recession only
made things worse.
publications have cut the frequency of their print products, no longer
publishing daily, and inviting their readers to get breaking news from their web
sites and from mobile devices, such as a Blackberry or iPhone. Two large
newspapers in Detroit are cutting home delivery to 3 days a week – the days that
advertisers most covet – Thursday, Friday and Sunday. A smaller version of the
papers will be printed the other four days and will be for sale in stores and in
vending machines. Readers would be invited to consult the paper’s web sites
in-between print editions. But will they? We don’t know, but we do know that
readers have choices between as many as one billion web sites and there is no
guarantee that the News and Free Press will be able to monetize their internet
As I indicated
earlier, 80 percent of newspapers’ revenue -- 20% of revenue comes from payment
from subscribers (like me) for home delivery and from single copy sales -- is
what advertisers pay for access to subscribers’ eyeballs.
It was thought
(and yours truly was quoted thusly in 2004 edition of Harvard University’s
Nieman Reports) that eventually newspapers would make enough money from selling
advertising on their web sites to offset the declining revenue of their print
products. It still may happen, but so far the newspapers’ web sites are not
taking in nearly enough revenue to make up for the print declines. Newspapers
web sites’ ad revenue remains in the single digits and some worry that it will
never, ever be enough to replace the losses on the print side. One source
predicts that it will be at least 5 years, if ever, for newspaper web sites to
This all brings me
to a central point. While newspapers are clearly inferior to the internet as a
distributor of news and information, they remain a superior way to deliver
advertising. There is no substitute for placing an ad on the pages of a
newspaper and-or placing an ad circular in a newspaper and putting it on the
doorsteps of folks with money to spend. Few people are going to print out an ad
circular from the internet. Colored ink is very expensive. People, especially
women, love to peruse the ads in a newspaper. For them, the ads are a form of
news – ideas for spending. Very stimulating for some folks.
So I predict the
following: Smaller print newspapers will stop publishing 6 or 7 days a week, and
cut to 3, probably Thursday, Friday and Sunday – big advertising days. But large
newspapers like the Detroit Free Press and News should continue home delivery 7
days a week because they do not want to interrupt the daily newspaper habit.
Once interrupted, the daily newspaper habit may never return, as I wrote in a
recent editorandpublisher.com article. Breaking news and sports news will move
to the internet. The parts of the newspaper not filled by ads will include less
time intensive stuff that can be done in advance like feature stories, listings
of upcoming events and meetings, schedules of TV show and movies. Some roundups
of important local news events and sports will appear but in limited form with a
promotional statement: see our web site for further details.
newspaper is not going away, but it is losing frequency, losing content,
becoming mostly an advertising vehicle and probably will be delivered free to
desirable customers (the folks advertisers want to reach), causing the loss of
circulation revenue. Better to lose that 20 percent than the indispensable 80
percent of advertising revenue, and the ad revenue is being threatened by the
drop in circulation and readership because younger folks do not want to pay for
Maybe, just maybe
in 5 years, the advertising spigot will open up for newspapers’ web sites and
maybe, just maybe, large numbers of the public will demand the morning friendly
be returned to their doorstep every day. Stranger things have happened. I would
note here that the print newspaper readership habit in Saudi Arabia appears
stronger then in the U.S.
Meanwhile, I am
preparing for the day when I get up, put cold water on my face, take my
vitamins, put on my bathrobe and slippers, pour a glass of orange juice, toast
and butter a bagel topped with peanut butter, pour that cup of coffer with cream
follow my dog into my home office and read the latest news from the screen of my
computer, soft music in the background, my brain in full gear, but missing every
day the morning friend.
(Columbus study of
U.S. college student awareness of Saudi society inserted here.)