Monday, May 4, 2009

The business as most of you know it is probably dying...maybe

Lapsednewsguy is a bit of a misnomer, as most of you know that I am currently editing a daily newspaper in northern Michigan.
The name reflects my conflicted relationship with the newspaper business, which has been wonderful and awful for me. It has fed my family, brought me professional recognition and respect, introduced me to thousands of nice, interesting people and, a few times, driven me very close to nervous collapse. There is no good without bad, I guess.
My work is different from most; brake pads and t-shirts can be made anywhere in the world, but local journalism has to be done locally. A rewrite guy on some desk in Chicago or Mumbai wouldn't be able to cover the school board well enough to attract the readership necessary to make any money. To sell ads and subscriptions, my readers need to know that I not only know my shit, but that I give a shit, too.
That's why my paper makes money. You heard me correctly: we make money every month. Take away the debt service of most corporate media parents and the big papers would make money, too. Most of the big newspapers you keep hearing about are operationally profitable. The idiots who run them racked up huge debt buying up other properties, stripping them down and trying to pump up ridiculous profit margins, all to justify oversized compensation and artificially high stock prices.
There was a time when a good year for a newspaper meant a 10 percent or so profit. That 10 percent today would get many publishers close to the chopping block.
Yes, the internet is hurting print products and said products may go away in another generation or two. That's the way our society is going; however, the daily newspaper's demise is not nearly as imminent as CNBC would have you believe. If the MBAs and salesmen who ran this business into the ground would get out of the way, you could probably read a newspaper every day to pass the time when you wind up at the old folks' home.


Carm said...

Thought you might enjoy this: I came across it today and it basically makes the same point about radio that you are making about newspaper.

lapsednewsguy said...

It's a carbon copy. Clear Channel sucks up every property on the planet, runs everything out of two or three sites and can't understand why their local audiences are dropping. And Clear Channel's worse because it owns many of the high power stations in many markets and packs them with conservative talk.