Blog by John Miller

<< back to article list

End of dailies?

The North American newspaper world came one step closer to its new business model this week -- one that might be described as "Unfit to Print."

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily published since 1837, will slash its staff and scale back to three days a week beginning this fall. Although it says it will step up its online presence, at least one-third of its editorial staff  will be fired.
The paper, owned by Newhouse Newspapers, leaves New Orleans as the biggest city in the United States without a daily newspaper. It will only publish on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays -- the three days of the week that are traditionally most profitable for daily papers.

It will be missed. The Times-Picayune won two Pulitzer prizes in 1997 and two more in 2006 for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Former staff members include William Faulkner and O. Henry.

With newspaper profits plunging and readers migrating to news-on-demand on the internet,  print media organizations in the U.S. and Canada have been scrambling to survive. According to Newspaper Death Watch, a website that tracks such things, 13 U.S. dailies and one in Canada (the Halifax Daily News) have closed since 2007, and the Times-Picayune joins eight other papers (including the Detroit News/Free Press and Christian Science Monitor) that have moved to a hybrid print/online model. In an effort to increase revenue some have even moved their online content behind pay walls, most notably the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times in the U.S. and The Globe and Mail in Canada.

Me? I'm old-fashioned. One of my great pleasures in life is to find my morning paper at the end of the driveway, liberate it from its blue plastic bag, and discover a world of serendipitous surprise as easily as I turn the pages. I like that I stumble on news that I had no idea I was looking for -- a process that, when you think about it, is the exact opposite of how you go about finding news online.

Alas, I appear to be in the minority.

LinkedIn's Business Insider recently analyzed five years of data to calculate the fastest growing and fastest shrinking businesses in the United States. Newspapers came last, with a rate of contraction of 28.4 percent. Online publishing, on the other hand, grew 24.3 percent.

The trick is to make online pay. No less an authority than Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is one of the few buyers of daily newspapers these days, declared
this week that offering news for free on the internet is an "unsustainable model." At the august New York Times, the company's fourth-quarter earnings showed that revenue from digital sources surpassed editorial operating costs, making it theoretically possible for the paper to think about getting out of print entirely without affecting editorial quality. Fewer than a quarter of the 1,350 daily newspapers in the U.S. have built paywalls, but some are starting to show success. Example: Nearly 20,000 people have signed up to pay $1.99 a week for the online Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Gannett plans to expand paywalls to all 80 of its small-market newspapers by the end of the year. That move, combined with circulation pricing increases, could add $100 million in annual profit.
The news is changing, my friends. But I for one will feel myself the loser when there's no longer that paper at the end of my driveway every morning.

Update: As sometimes happens, I was ahead of the Canadian news with this blog. Today (May 28) Postmedia announced that
the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal would lose their Sunday papers and that the National Post would stop printing on Mondays through the summer for the second year in a row. The chain will also stop publishing on holidays such as Victoria Day and Canada Day.