Shoptalk: The Last Days of Newspapers

By: David Andreatta
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shoptalknov16

Among the newspapers on my desk at work is one pinned to the corkboard of my cubicle with a headline that screams: “Extra, Extra, Read All About It! Father Of The Year!”

It was published by my then 6-year-old son for Father’s Day and is loaded with information about me, some of it inaccurate and speculative.

“My Dad’s favorite color is: Blue.” True. “My Dad’s favorite sport is: Soccer.” Not true. “My Dad is good at: Working at the newspaper.” That’s a matter of opinion.

I’ve been reflecting on that newspaper since learning that Sept. 7 “may well go down as the day the American newspaper as we’ve known it moved out of intensive care and into the palliative wing on its way to the Great Beyond.”

That was how The New York Times characterized the significance of the Newspaper Association of America, the trade group that has represented newspapers since 1887, dropping “Newspaper” from its name that day. The group now calls itself the News Media Alliance.

A lack of newspapers didn’t prompt the change, although their dwindling number was an obvious factor. There are about 1,300 daily newspapers in the United States today, compared with 1,500 in 1996, according to the association.

What drove the association to change its name, according to the Times, was that the word “newspaper” has become “irrelevant” to many of the group’s members, more and more of which are drawing wider and wider audiences online and fewer and fewer in print.

That dynamic comes with its own set of problems, or rather one big problem—making up revenue lost by declining print circulation. For various reasons, digital advertising is far less profitable than print.

You see where this is headed. Ad revenues finance the journalism newspapers produce. When those ad revenues fall, the result is cutbacks that inevitably lead to the newsroom. Fewer journalists means less news, and less news means…well, you get the point.

Fortunately, the Father’s Day edition newspaper didn’t have to worry about ads and audience. It’s filled with three-quarter page crayon drawings of me at work, fishing with my son and playing in the backyard. It’s a delightful, quick read.

But news of the Newspaper Association of America dropping from its name the very word that defined it left me wondering how much longer those Father’s Day editions would roll off the presses in first-grade classrooms everywhere.

Five years? Ten years? Twenty?

It won’t be declining ad revenue that kills those newspapers. It will be youngsters’ fundamental lack of understanding of the function of a newspaper. They won’t know what a newspaper is because they’ll have never seen one.

The Times quoted the vice chairman of the association as figuring Sunday newspapers would be around at least 20 more years, but that he couldn’t venture a guess for the rest of the week.

That doesn’t mean the children of tomorrow will be uninformed. The conventional industry thinking is that whatever form newspapers of the future assume will retain the vital services of newspapers—ferreting out corruption and holding government accountable.

Indeed, the best “newspaper” reporting of today is far superior to that of yesteryear. It’s investigative and includes interactive graphics, videos, galleries of visual images and links to source material that keep readers (viewers?) better informed and more engaged.

But producing the best of what newspapers offer in the digital age is expensive, and without the financing something’s got to give and when something’s got to give…you get the picture.

Perhaps first-graders of tomorrow will produce Father’s Day apps or websites equipped with all the bells and whistles of the best investigative reporting of their day. Their projects could be delivered to dads via text or telepathically, who knows?

If that’s the case, and the heart of newspapers is kept intact, the product would be something to embrace and cherish.

But it won’t be something a dad could pin to his cubicle corkboard, and that’s a little sad.

 

David Andreatta is a reporter and columnist with the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, N.Y. A 16-year-veteran of newspapers, Andreatta has received national and state awards for his investigative work and column writing. A longer version of this column was originally published at on.rocne.ws/2cTMQ6d.

Published: November 17, 2016

6 thoughts on “Shoptalk: The Last Days of Newspapers

  • November 17, 2016 at 6:17 am
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    Yes, if you take the News Media Alliance’s take on the state of the industry. The National Newspaper Association, which represents over 2,000 community newspapers across America would beg to differ. We believe that community newspapers, which cover local government, local sports, events, fires and floods, 100th birthdays, and, yes, pages devoted to art and writing by our young people, have a great future, and a future in print. As the publisher of a 7.000 circ. weekly newspaper, with stable circulation, more news than we can fit into 28-32 pages a week, an active website, mobile app and niche publications, we believe in newspapers. I’m often stopped on the street by readers, many of whom are half my age, who tell me that they look forward to getting the print newspaper every Wednesday.

    In so many ways, we’re our own worst enemy by predicting (wrongly in my opinion) our own demise. Sure, papers that continue to cut staff and content aren’t doing themselves or our industry any favors. The emphasis on the almighty “quarterly profit projection” is a factor in a portion of our industry’s decline. But look at the independents and small groups that work hard to cover their communities. They’re generally doing pretty well.

    Reply
  • November 17, 2016 at 6:38 am
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    It’s not just newspapers. Everything is going that way. We have a wall in our kitchen, the kids bragging wall. We don’t call it that but that’s what it is. Whenever one of our kids does something good, up on the wall it goes. Report cards, certificates, awards, etc… It’s grade time here. 2nd term just ended. We always got the report card in the mail and hung it up on the wall. Now, for our convenience and to save a few bucks, report cards are online only. Now we can enjoy the coldness of technology to view the report cards. Then it’s over. No reminder they did a good job. No casually walking over and taking a look at it. While the grades are still important, it feels like now they’re just a little less important for some reason. I think us as adults are the ones going to miss it the most. Remember when you could grab a box of old photos, sit there and go through them enjoying the memories? When a family member dies we’ll all be huddled around a computer screen waiting for everyone to get a look before looking at the next one. Music. Remember the joy of listening to your favorite band and checking out the cd booklet? No more. All physical things must end is the way of the internet and the humans are left feeling more empty than we’ll even remember or know. It’s a shame about humans, if we didn’t have these damn feelings or emotions, it wouldn’t matter. But humans be damned, the convenience of tech trumps all because dollars trump all. And in the end, all news will be owned by investors only, pushing their agenda. What we saw during political season is the new norm. B.S. Propaganda. Lies. Convenience.

    Reply
  • November 17, 2016 at 7:07 am
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    Hi, I am a Philadelphia Journalist and I thought this was a good and unique perspective of what is happening, sad but true.

    Reply
  • November 17, 2016 at 9:26 am
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    Sad it is.

    True? Not so fast.

    In more than 300 markets in the U.S. and Canada today, Vicki Whiting’s Kid Scoop Weekly and Kid Scoop News surprises and delights elementary students weekly and monthly in literally thousands of classrooms. It’s still ink on paper, although there is, of course, a digital version. The kids, their teachers and parents write in every week telling Vicki how much their cherish Kid Scoop and the newspapers who make it possible.

    Will kids produce “papers” their parents can hang at their offices or on refrigerator doors in the future? The answer is most certainly no IF we in the newspaper business give up on newspapers themselves.

    My guess is there will be ink on paper newspapers around for well more than 20 years. Tomorrow’s print products will be a premium production — colorful, high design and high quality. Readers will pay for the luxury and convenience of having such an engaging product delivered to their doors. They will pay for journalists and editors to sort through all of the fake facts and echoes online to give them actual facts, facts are meaningful to their lives and pursuits. And readers will be thankful that their premium, individualized newspaper makes them just a tad smarter than their neighbors.

    The last days of newspapers will only be upon us if we give up, if we abandon the next generation of readers and if we forget the tactile pleasure of print and the serendipity of being exposed to storytelling that compels us to read about something we never would think to search for or believe would interest us.

    It just could be that the best days of newspapers are just about to begin.

    Reply
  • November 17, 2016 at 8:02 pm
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    I’ve had 38 years’ experience in daily/weekly/Sunday papers…
    most proprietors (well, at least in Australia and New Zealand) have been very quick – with the onslaught of digital – to “throw the baby out with the bath water”.
    While it’s true newspapers aren’t the giants of communication (and classified advertising) they once were all is not lost…
    Look at all the hooha over your election with fake stories on Facebook etc…who will the public look to for credible/balanced/REAL information once more? The newspaper.
    Maybe the NNA, through all its members, could launch a national newspaper initiative through schools to keep the flame alive…

    Reply
  • November 18, 2016 at 4:13 pm
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    Can’t we please save this headline until it happens? I’ve heard this refrain since I started teaching journalism in 1991. Please file this with “The Death of Radio Now that TV is Here” (1950) and “Why the Internet Will Surely Destroy Network TV.”(1995)

    Reply

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