AAN President's Views Get Mixed Reaction p. 15

By: M.L. STEIN THEIR PRESIDENT'S PREDICTION that most big daily newspapers will be extinct or big money losers in 10 years (E&P, Shop Talk at Thirty, Jan. 11) got a mixed reaction in a survey of publishers and staffers on alternative newsweeklies.
None of the respondents believed that mainstream dailies will die out in 10 years, although most agreed with Jeff vonKaenel that various factors will cause a further readership decline and that the Internet will siphon away classified advertising from mainstream papers.
E&P obtained the opinions at the recent
AAN-West (Association of Alternative Newsweeklies) Conference '97 in San Francisco. National
AAN president vonKaenel, publisher of News & Review weeklies in Sacramento
and Chico, Calif., and in Reno,
forecast that by 2006 the major dailies will "have lost a huge segment of their readership, forfeited their sky-high profit margins, especially in the extremely profitfable classified sections, and lost much of their display advertising revenue as advertisers strive to
target their marketing based on niche demographics."
The conference interviewees, some of whom have worked in the mainstream press, generally envisioned a less gloomy future for the dailies but stressed that they will have to change to cope with changing lifestyles and reader interests, and competition from other media and online services.
"Daily newspapers are an endangered species, but they won't be extinct in 10 years," said Jeanne Howard, former publisher of Metro Santa Cruz in California. "I appreciate getting a morning paper and broadcast news is not a substitute for a daily newspaper."
She worried, however, that young people "are not in the habit of reading" and predicted that metro dailies will get smaller as they seek out niche audiences.
John Saltas, editor and publisher of Private Eye Weekly in Salt Lake City, commented: "Jeff is right about newspapers being in trouble, but I don't think they will disappear. The problem is that newspapers are no longer a functional part of people's daily lives as they used to be. They've got to learn new ways to appeal to readers and get over the idea of not offending anyone."
A similar view was offered by Randy Campbell, publisher of the Santa Barbara and Ventura, Calif., Independent weeklies.
"They [dailies] won't be extinct but will be forever changed due to the alternatives and cyberspace," he remarked. "Dailies are losing market share because they're trying to be all things to all people. The alternatives are succeeding because they became market specific."
Flatly breaking with vonKaenel on the dailies' longevity, Andy Hedden-Nicely, publisher of the Boise (Idaho) Weekly, recalled predictions that television would spell the demise of movies and radio.
"That newspapers will be dead in 10 years in the same scenario," he continued. "There will be a loss of advertising, but this will be balanced out in the marketplace. People like newspapers too much to see them go. Maybe I'm saying this because I like newspapers too much."
San Francisco Bay Guardian executive editor Tim Redmond voted with vonKaenel, except for the timing.
"Jeff's onto something, but I see dailies having a reduced role in the next 20 years and there will be fewer of them."
VonKaenel is "absolutely right, scary as it might be," said Steve McNamara, publisher of the the Pacific Sun in Marin County, Calif. The dailies' classified will disappear into cyberspace."
However, McNamara added that the prospect of online gobbling up print advertising applies to alternatives as well, even though Web sites are currently not making money.
He would not commit himself to dailies expiring in 10 years, although they "will have more worry."
Dawn Arnold, classified manager of the Athens (Ohio) News, said, "Lots of people are turning to the alternatives. Newspapers won't be dead in 10 years, but they're losing business to online."
Monopolies will sound the death knell for dailies, according to John Weiss, publisher of the Colorado Springs Independent, who blasted the sameness of content and approach to the news in chain newspapers.
The daily Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, a Freedom newspaper, still "frames the news" in his community, he conceded. But, like other dailies, it's too bound up in "telling what happened in the news and not telling why it happened. This is what people need to know," he said.
Weiss also feared that the dailies' sports and financial news will be swallowed up by online publishers feeding a public desire for "instantaneous" information.
The respondents were aware of the dailies' foray into online news and information but pointed out that their efforts have not been profitable and are not up to speed with other Internet providers.
His misgivings notwithstanding, Weiss, 41, augured that "newspapers will continue to be profitable in my lifetime, even though they will have a diminished role."
Kevin Smith, classified manager of the Coast Weekly in Monterey, Calif., did not think alternatives would supplant established dailies.
"We both fill a niche, but we can't approach the number of pages a daily can offer," he pointed out. "The dailies won't be extinct in 10 years."
Maybe not, said Mike Hodgson of the San Luis Obispo, Calif., Free Times, "But if they don't change, they're doomed.
One optimist in the group, Kimberli Patterson, a Private Eye copy editor, had this to say: "I graduated college in 1989 and I've been told over and over again ever since that daily newspapers are dying. They're still here along with the Internet. I find information I need in a daily and it's easier than the Internet."


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