Professional Newspaper Journalism in Trouble


Pick up any national newspaper and you’ll see article after article by newspaper journalists and their editors all with one major theme.  The articles might include catchy titles like these:

Professional Journalism Must Be Saved
Hope For America’s Newsrooms
Newspaper Journalists–The Last Bastion of Truth
Benjamin Franklin Rises From Tomb to Save Journalism

Seattle Times editorial columnist Ryan Blethen wrote an article he titled, “Hope for America’s Newsrooms” dated March 27, 2009. Mr. Blethen repeats the mantra, “The seemingly sudden destruction of newsrooms has spurred a plethora of ideas to save professional journalism.”

The article goes on to discuss ideas such as massive government spending to prop up newspapers that no longer can support themselves, and tax credits for readers who pay subscription fees.  Mr. Blethen makes a fatal mistake in his article.  He makes a wrong assumption.  All of his arguments and calls for help are based upon his assumption that professional journalism must be saved and that to save it print newspapers must be saved.

Journalists like Mr. Blethen, no doubt a good man and a good journalist, are making the same mistake many businessmen and corporations are making today.  They are assuming that they are the center of the Universe, and that consumers can be controlled and force fed news “professional journalists” choose to write about.

The world is changing, and consumers are tired of being force fed news they don’t like in a venue they no longer consider sacred.  The only ones today who still think print newspapers are sacred are professional newspaper journalists.  The vast majority of American consumers find print news outdated as soon as it is printed, overwhelmingly negative, biased, unbalanced, incomplete, and inconvenient to read compared to the Internet.  Subscriptions have dramatically fallen and advertisers have given up on expensive advertising that no longer reels in the customers.  This is what professional journalists want to save?

Bob Garfield summarized recent events concisely, “There are so many horror stories to choose from. The Rocky Mountain News just folded, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer went web-only last week and the San Francisco Chronicle is on death’s door. A decade ago, the Minneapolis Star Tribune sold for $1.2 billion. In January, it declared bankruptcy. Chicago’s vast Tribune Co. was valued at $12 billion in 2000, when it took on debt to acquire the Times-Mirror Co. for more than $8.3 billion. In April 2007, real-estate developer Sam Zell snapped up the whole empire for $8.2 billion, and commenced wholesale retrenchment, including layoffs, bureau closings and the sale to Cablevision of the venerable Newsday. Within 20 months, bankruptcy.”  [Read Future May Be Brighter But It’s Apocalypse Now.  Warning:  The Author uses strong and vulgar language in some of his article.]

Newspaper journalists who write extensively about saving “professional journalism” are missing this shift in consumer demand.  What professional journalists  should be doing is first coming to the realization that they are not the center of the Universe.  The next step is to realize that consumers are the center of the Universe, and we are here to serve consumers.

Once professional journalists get their heads wrapped around those simple but life changing realities, they can then begin to work on business models that will serve consumers and allow them to practice journalism and make a living to support their lifestyles.

This is the great challenge:  How do we bring news and entertainment to consumers in a way that meets their preferences in a sustainable business model?  This question will get dramatically different results than the question, “How do we save professional journalism?”   The former question will spur the healthy pursuit of journalism with consumers’ interests and preferences in mind, while the latter question is self-serving and will result in frustrating attempts to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.  Even massive government grants won’t save this Titanic.

It’s not about us.  It’s about consumers.  How do we bring news and entertainment to consumers in a way that meets their preferences in a sustainable business model?  That is the real question.

1 Comment for “Professional Newspaper Journalism in Trouble”

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    Interesting content. Just wanted to share some information that I came across in a few articles discussing recession and how we can adopt a different marketing strategy to promote our business. It’s quite eminent that most of the advertisers and businesses are taking to the online advertising medium since the Internet has now become a necessity to reach a global audience. However, even today there is still a huge chunk of people who do not access the Internet, and to reach this segment of the society; we can rely on the print media. This in fact would be a great choice for anyone whether they are looking out for global, national or local exposure.

    Since the economies are now at the brink of recession, it’s a good idea to consider print media as well in the marketing mix so that you can extend your reach further to get additional traffic to your website or business. You can try a blend of online and print advertising through a reputed ad agency that can help you professionally.

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