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September 28, 2008

Shrinking Newspapers Note

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

This item appeared in today's Seattle Times editorial page. It seems that said page is about to go Poof!

The editor mentions that on-line readership is up and believes that the editorial opinion-related material can be better handled on the Web, allowing blogs, lengthier articles and so forth. All of this is probably true.

Not mentioned is the likely fact that print advertising had fallen to the point where two-page editorial sections (five days a week; Monday and Saturday got one page) cannot be economically justified.

As for me, I will rue the disappearance of the editorial section (though a vestige might remain in print). That's because I stopped reading the comics section and relied on the editorial pages to provoke laughter.



posted by Donald at September 28, 2008


Who says there's no good news?

Said editor still doesn't get it even as the incredible shrinking Seattle Times gets more anorexic. In speaking of William Buckley to set up his prophetic kicker he say -- inevitably and gratuitously -- "— I didn't agree with his politics but relished his wordage — "

Perhaps if the Times had more agreeable politics, or even more balanced politics, it would not have alienated around 50% of its potential readership.

But no.... Death before dishonor!

Posted by: vanderleun on September 28, 2008 12:58 PM

Vanderleun: on the contrary, I think Times (or Sun, or Post) should not keep the pretense of "balanced" politics. Times should stop calling itself "a newspaper of record"; they should come out and say, openly and honestly - we are the Socialist Democratic newspaper, we serve the angry left that now have infiltrated themselves into positions of power - be it in industry, finance or in government - and we reflect their views and plans for further dominance.

Donald, funny you should mention comix here. it popped up in this [relevant] conversation, too.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 28, 2008 2:47 PM

"I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea... What news! How much more important to know what that is which was never old!"

Posted by: Brian on September 28, 2008 3:51 PM

Something must be in the air -- I just put up a post showing that the story of "the decline of print journalism" is misleading, in that it appears to be cyclical, rather than steadily downward over the long-term. I used number of articles put out in a year as the measurement of journalistic health:

Read it here

Posted by: agnostic on September 28, 2008 5:20 PM

Gee Agnostic, isn't there an easier and more logical way to quantitatively assert the health of newspapers and magazines? You know, like circulation numbers, or advertising revenues by year? It's not like they hide that stuff from their shareholders. Certainly makes a lot more sense than doing a single random word search and somehow making a connection to the health of newspapers. There's a reason why people in the actual biz are shitting their pants and it has to do with the bottom line, not a superstitious fear of networking technology.

Of course, it's groaners like this one that really highlight how bombast and numbers ain't worth shit if you can't think critically.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on September 28, 2008 6:44 PM

Hey numbnuts, if you read the very first sentence of my post, I say explicitly that there are surely circulation and revenue data that would back up all the complaining. You get an E for effort, though.

What I'm proposing is another, not mutually exclusive indicator of health -- the size of the article output each year, regardless of how many people consume it or how much money it brings in. Who says we have to accept the shareholders' framing of the issue -- that only circulation and profit matter? I care more if they're putting out more and/or better stuff.

I did not perform a random word search -- searching for "the" gives the total number of articles. It's easier than writing to the NYT asking, "Could you tell me how many articles you published per year since 1981?" I can figure that out myself.

But curiosity, inquiry, proposing alternative ways of looking at things, and the larger DIY ethic is lost on lazy imbeciles like you. It's a good thing you couldn't hack it in academia -- I'd hate to have my hiring committee consist of a bunch of fools.

Posted by: agnostic on September 28, 2008 10:32 PM

Even if it was there since the beginning and I missed reading it because I don't like to inhale the aroma of bullshit deeply, it doesn't serve as an ancillary support unless you have a deranged definition of what "viable" is. Sometimes you don't need to read something closely to know it's full of crap.

Instead of typing "the" or "on" or whatever proposition strikes your fancy, you could have simply looked up "newspaper circulation" or "newsmagazine sales" and found out that:

1. Circulation is slowly declining for most large regional newspapers and newsmagazines. Hell, even USA Today's circulation is dropping. Add to that the fact that certain perodical genres are basically dying off as we speak.

Parallel to that is also a fall in ad revenues.

2. The average age of the newspaper reader and certain types of mainstream and niche magazines are rising.

This isn't some arcane stuff found in a publishing insider's journal or on share-reports. It's been widely covered by the mainstream media. Where have you been?

Secondly we accept shareholder reports and bottom lines because if the newspapers/magazines cease to be profitable, they cease to be published. Period. It doesn't matter if the articles are numerous and/or awe-inspiring testimonies to the powers of journalism. Without dinero, it don't get put on the page, little hombre, no matter how much you care about it. God knows the graveyards of print are filled with great efforts that failed to get out of the red.

I also get a kick of someone who deeply aspires to be an academic calling a dude who works at a Japanese company in Japan a "lazy imbecile". Come back after you work 10 hour days in a second language with ideographs.

The reason I couldn't hack academia (curious, because I've never given my explicit reasons or talked about how I felt I couldn't hack it on anything other than my old personal blog) is partially due to guys like you. Loud, self-important fools who mistake the ability to browbeat others as intellectual superiority. In any case if you read closely, you'd have found out that much of my feelings of "not hacking it" were due to my lower skill level in my languages and rhetoric, not failing grades or lack of content. When it finally came down to it, other people wanted it more than I did.

In any case, I don't think you'll find swinging academic credentials will get you much sympathy with the crowd here. Remember, this is the place where we beat up on the deluded rantings of a self-appointed elite, you know, like the folks who will be on your hiring committee. Me, I'm sorta through with all that. I still occasionally write articles on the side, but that's because I want to and I love my field of study. Not because I have need a piece of paper saying I got a full Ph.D

It's fair enough to hit me personally and drag out my own dirty laundry from the past, though, since I've mocked your "game". Difference is, though, that you talk about your "game" incessantly everywhere to anyone, and my personal battles were on an old blog I don't publicize. You may think that it's a secret hidden weakness you could subtly get under my skin with and send me into a paroxysm of rage at you which you could then coldly dissect and mock with plausible denial as to how you found out. "Ha Ha Ha, Why would I care enough to read your blog?" You might say if I accused you of that. Sure, back a couple years ago I felt I couldn't hack it and said so in many posts. That was then, this is now. Perspective puts things into a good place, and there's no need to hide or compensate. Hell, even if it was by coincidence (which is doubtful, considering how much your statement was crafted to evoke that period of my past in so many words), I'm pretty thankful now that you triggered it. I haven't reflected on it much since that time.

Hey, but if it was intentional, it's good to see that one can finally get a real nasty rise out of you when you've been shown to be utterly clueless about what you're talking about and no amount of skittering your definitions around or word games can hide it. Hey, you might dig up some magazines and "OMG they have a rise in circulation", but single data points do not a trend make, no matter how many times you try it.

Live by the data, die by the data, dude.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on September 29, 2008 3:39 AM

*wisper* Spike, I don't think he dug that deep - you mentioned the fact on the new blog, too.
You're wasting your breath. Either the subject, nor the object, are worthy.

Better tell me - is it true that all girls in Japan wear high heels - and majority of them don't know how to walk in them?

Posted by: Tatyana on September 29, 2008 8:01 AM


Hmm, so I did. I really ought to use that thing when I'm sober and remember what I write!

You're right, I really ought to give it up. The thing is, taking whacks at an online pinata is good way to blow off stress after crunching grammar and kanji for others all day interspersed with painfully dull business meetings. I have to bite my tongue all day long and smile, but online I can let loose if the mood hits.

Yes, it is true about the shoes, though it's mostly an urbanite phenomenon. Those shoes are remarkably dangerous. Elevators are rather few and slow, so most people take the stairs, even in multistory buildings. My friend saw a girl in one of those heels trip on a crowded subway stairwell and cracked her head open. Being that it was in Tokyo, everyone just stepped over her and went on their way.

In the industrial town where I live, people who dress like that are sort of looked at like folks from the heartland look at Carrie Bradshaw types. Somewhat askew. I like to joke that I live in the Dayton Ohio of Japan.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on September 29, 2008 11:27 AM

Hey there, hot-headed young studs: A modicum of politesse, please. A few deep breaths. A recollection of how to conduct civilized debate ...

OK, now back to the rumble.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 29, 2008 12:21 PM


If I may be so cheeky, how can we recollect what we were never taught? In any case, I think the fork is in the potato for this one.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on September 29, 2008 8:32 PM

Cracked her head? Oh my, some people are, literally, fashion victims.

I enjoyed the freerice thing. Maybe even too much.

Thanks, S

Posted by: Tatyana on September 29, 2008 10:40 PM

For a business that gives away most of its product online for free, newspapers are doing great. I challenge the brightest idiot (ha ha) to come up with a business plan to make that work. It may indeed be the case that the Internet will kill newspapers one day, but it did not have to happen this quickly.

If newspapers are dead -- then their online ventures were a total --and expensive -- waste of resources. I imagine most major papers are spending millions for online sites and product. The end result may well be that their name survives ...on a glorified blog. They have completely mismanaged their online presence. Of course, there are many more problems with papers today.

It seems amazing that they have not tried to get some hot shot NEW managers in place to try stuff.
How stupid for a business that is in trouble not to at least try some new strategies -- beyond slicing staff and shrinking product.


Posted by: sN on September 30, 2008 3:45 AM

Here in Boston, Pravda, known to some as the Boston Globe, is entering its death spiral. Beyond the overwhelmingly socialist slant of not just editorial content, but "news" as well, the NYT red-headed stepchild (Times Corp. bought the paper from the 100+ years owners, the Winship family) has parted company with most of its experienced journalists in every area but sports, which is really the only reason I read it.

Four things:

1. Reduction in content to the point that Saturday and Monday editions are approximately 1/2 the page count of 15 years ago.

2. Advertising that used to be 1/8 or 1/4 page is now cheap enough that it is now full page.

3. 2008 circulation numbers are down over 8% from last year; I got my latest invoice and they just jacked home delivery from $31/month to $37/month-without advance notice!

4. The business model for content for many things, especially news, is now FREE. Not much hope for a business charging me for supplying late, slanted versions of something I can get free and quicker.

I called the circulation number (outsourced) last Friday to cancel my subscription, which I've had since I was a freshman in college 31 years ago. I'm a book/newspaper/magazine guy, and for someone like me to stop the daily paper, the newspaper biz is in trouble. Thankfully, the variety of news and commentary sources on the net allows me to do just that.

Posted by: Brutus on September 30, 2008 1:14 PM

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