Friday, August 22, 2008

Hard pills to swallow


Reading trade magazines and blogs about the current state of journalism is like glancing through the obituary pages.

"Abandon hope all ye who enter here."

Our own KC Star has even begun a steady march of attrition with cut backs, buyouts and goat slaughters to the j-gods to save the paper. Now this week they announced that they are bugging out of the suburbs as they pull back their zoned editions from JoCo and elsewhere — the area the paper seemed to actually make money.

But before we break out Taps for the funeral march that The Star and others seem to be planning for themselves, someone really needs to begin questioning; "Is it really that bad for print?"

One grad student, using data from a Philly paper, formerly owned by Knight-Ridder, who used to own The Star, says that as staff cuts and the gnashing of teeth in newsrooms have continued for the last decade profit margins continue to increase.

Money quote:

"It’s pretty clear that, throughout the course of this dataset, profit margins at PNI (the name for the Philly subdivision under Knight-Ridder) were anywhere between 9 percent (in 1995) and as high as the upper teens to low 20percent-area by the early 2000s. So … even while circulation and staff were dropping, and even as the challenge posed by the world wide web loomed on the horizon, profits got bigger and bigger."

And newspapers, he argues along with every other literate person in the world, have not changed this way of thinking, even as the internet has...well...you know.

Maybe his assessment is a few years to late — blaming most, if not all, of their current downfall on inaction to get with the program when it comes to the net. Still, even with the eye balls (supposedly in the millions each day) The Star still hosts one of the worst Web sites in the Midwest. In my time there I offered to help, but was told no as higher powers had better plans, which, for most newspaper in this country, we have yet to see. Lord knows my own professional internet project has taken me more than a year to get off the ground.

Maybe this explains why newspaper executives are just getting more bi-polar as they cry and moan about cuts one day and then boast and thump their chests at the amount of money brought in through their millions of internet readers through side projects.

But what is interesting is how this report also says that executives hope that so long as the profit margins are astronomically high, then the rest of the company, from the top down, will win.

Reganomics? And how did that work out for us? We still seem to be cutting and chopping here. But the papers still make money.

Really when McClatchy or any newspaper company executives cry about loss of profits and declining ad revenue, it really only means they will now have to settle for the 150-foot yacht rather than the 300-foot one.

Print is not dying a slow death because of neglect, its dying a slow death as those on top chip away and sell the parts.

Pruitt, I blame you.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Ink is lucky to have 7000 pageviews per day and a good majority of those come from the staff. "Millions of users" is a gross exaggeration. More like.. tens.