Will Dailies Go Down Swinging or Throw in the Towel?
One of my favorite cable news programs is CNN’s ‘“NewsNight with Aaron Brown.’” Unlike far too many of his counterparts (read: anyone on Fox), Brown talks rather than shouts at his audience, doesn’t list hard to either port or starboard politically, and seems a genuinely pleasant fellow. I’m guessing that Brown cut his teeth in the print, rather than electronic, media, but if not, he nonetheless has a special place in his heart for newspapers. Each night he ends the show by holding up the front page of a dozen or so newspapers from around the country, commenting briefly on the next day’s lead story in each. Even better, he doesn’t limit it to the big boys, New York Times, Washington Post, etc., giving equal time to small and mid-sized markets like Salt Lake City, Peoria, or St. Petersburg, for example.
But not Greensboro.
Nope, don’t hold your breath waiting for our beloved News & Record to get a little national pub. It won’t happen, but it won’t be because of design or content but placement. Specifically, the N&R has gone so local that national news has been relegated to the inside pages. Unless another 9/11 happens, you’re more likely to find a plant-closing or wreck on I-85 or school board budget hearing covered on A1 than you are Bush’s latest duplicitous maneuver or the death toll in Iraq.
Case in point: One evening last week most of the papers Brown featured had as their lead story General Motors’ elimination of 25,000 jobs. The next day I found that story in the N&R on B6, a 150-word brief in the business section. Behind the obits, for crying out loud! Instead, the local gazette had as its A1 banner ‘“Thomasville Furniture cuts jobs,’” an important story, to be sure, but one that belongs on B1, where local stories traditionally are placed.
(Before I go any further, please understand that I love newspapers in general, the N&R in particular, have since childhood. I have no personal vendetta against anyone associated with the N&R; in fact, I still have several tried-and-true friends there. Believe me, after the beating I’ve taken over the past year, like Clarence Carter, I’m too weak to fight.)
Actually, I understand the reasoning behind the N&R’s decision a couple of years ago to concentrate its resources on local news. With so many sources available on cable TV and the internet for national and international news, the last bastion for newspapers seems to be intensive coverage of goings-on in its own backyard.
The N&R is certainly not alone in that trend. But the upshot of that rationale is that the dailies are conceding the market. They are driving folks like me who still prefer to get their news from the paper each morning to turn on CNN or ESPN to get our fix. They’ve acquiesced; TV and internet win by default. (And they wonder why circulation figures are declining and sales revenues are flat.)
In its quest to stay ahead of the curve, the News & Record sunk a boatload of money into its ill-fated depot.com online presence. And lately (with apologies to Ed Cone) it seems to have gone blog crazy. Before long I expect the carriers and mailroom employees to have their own blogs. They seem to have forgotten that their primary product ‘— their only product, really ‘— is the Greensboro News & Record.
This latest flap over dropping the New York Times syndication service in order to save $34,000 is another example of conceding the market to the internet. Now readers will be forced to join me in getting the Times via e-mail each day (email@example.com) in order to read Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd, et. al.
Then there is the case of the Incredible Shrinking Sports Section. This season we’re getting one sentence and a box score on each major league baseball game. One lousy sentence! This absolutely forces me to ESPN’s ‘“Sports Center’” each morning and the Boston Globe online to get anything in depth on, say, how Johnny Damon’s injury is healing or if Curt Shilling will be back by the All-Star break. Again, they’ve simply conceded the market. On the larger scale, other forms of media didn’t capture the market; newspapers drove readers to other news sources.
When daily newspapers as we’ve known them have gone the way of the buggy whip some time by the middle of this century, it won’t be because television news is so compelling or the internet is so pervasive. It will be because newspapers, owned by a handful of Murdochian conglomerates, could no longer make their 20 percent profit margin and gave up the fight. No, that’s not entirely true; by going local they’ve already given up.
They’re too weak to fight.
Ogi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and heard each Tuesday at 9:35 a.m. on WGOS 1070 AM.