Monday, March 17, 2008

Newspapers are not dead, but are they dying?

The short answer is, “no.”


Former NPR anchor and current XM Satellite Radio host Bob Edwards says the good news is that investigative newspaper journalism is alive and relatively well.


Here are some of the outrages exposed by Florida newspapers last year:

·         Enormous flaws in the juvenile justice system that all but guarantee graduation to adult felon status.

·         City council members holding secret meetings in violation of state law and keeping no records as required.

·         County officials jailed for using their offices to amass lucrative real estate portfolios.

·         Top state officials rewarding private companies that contributed to their political campaigns.

·         Murderers, wife-beaters, drug dealers and sex offenders given concealed weapons permits.

·         Massive pollution of entire watersheds by developers, industry, mining interests and agriculture.

The citizens of Florida were well-served by the newspaper reporters and editors who alerted the public to the state's bad actors.




The bad news is that the owners and managers of newspapers say their industry is dying. They say circulation and ad revenue are declining. They say they must offer buyouts to older and higher-paid reporters and editors, some of whom will be replaced by younger people paid less money. I know that very few young people read newspapers. I see that in my office and within my family. But I also know that newspaper chains have insisted on a 30% profit margin -- a ridiculously high figure compared with most industries. So are newspapers really dying or are they just no longer able to deliver a 30% margin to their owners? I don't know the answer to that, but I know something else. The type of reporting I'm judging for the James Batton Award is only done by newspapers -- and blogs will not replace that kind of journalism. Perhaps one day when every public document is in an online database and all public officials return our phone calls and emails, we'll be able to do our investigative reporting from home. Until that unlikely day, we need the resources of newspapers.


And on a related note, it seems that newspaper readership and newspaper circulation are not necessarily the same thing.


Newspapers gained readers last year, confounding analysts who have predicted they would continue to lose ground as more people switch to the Internet to get their news, a report issued Monday said.

"Critics have tended to see technology democratizing the media and traditional journalism in decline," the report by Pew Research's Project for Excellence in Journalism said.



While daily newspaper circulation fell 2.5 percent last year, readership for dailies more than doubled in 2007, the report said.

"If you add in the unduplicated audience of a newspaper's website (people who do not also read the print edition), which typically is growing at a healthy rate, you get a picture of the 'total audience' for newspaper organizations growing, not declining," the report said.

"Old media" have gone from simply replicating their print-form news on the Internet to creating innovative, interactive sites, the report said.

It is worth remembering that prognosticators in and out of the business have been predicting the demise of the newspaper for decades.  Somehow, they manage to survive.  The news part does, anyway, even if the paper part is starting look a little worse for wear.