Newspaper Crisis

The Chicago Tribune Company may file for bankruptcy, and the New York Times Company plans to borrow against its new West Side corporate headquarters to meet a cash shortfall. (Full disclosure — as a writer for I work on contract for the New York Times Company, and I’ve been in the corporate headquarters a few times. Lovely building.)

Naturally, some are rejoicing in the downfall of the evil MainStreamMedia, or MSM. Little Lulu got the brilliant idea that some wealthy right-wingers ought to snap up newspapers while they are going cheap and replace the staffs with right-wing ideologues, effectively turning the nation’s newspapers into propaganda rags for the Right. Which is what they’ve pretty much been for the past several years, anyway, but the Right will not rest until they control all information being received by the American public.

Some right-of-center investors attempted to establish a right-wing challenge to the New York Times (like we don’t already have the Post?) called the New York Sun. The Sun bombed spectacularly and finally stopped publishing earlier this year, but not before losing its deep-pocket investors a ton of money. Scott Sherman wrote in April 2007,

Although it is funded by a coterie of wealthy individuals, published on a shoestring and edited by a tenacious journalist, Seth Lipsky, the paper is not a financial success: Last year Lipsky told journalism students at Columbia that the Sun lost $1 million a month. But those losses amount to pocket change for the proprietors, whose investment and ongoing commitment have yielded something else: a broadsheet that injects conservative ideology into the country’s most influential philanthropic, intellectual and media hub; a paper whose day-to-day coverage of New York City emphasizes lower taxes, school vouchers and free-market solutions to urban problems; a paper whose elegant culture pages hold their own against the Times in quality and sophistication; a paper that breaks news and crusades on a single issue; a paper that functions as a journalistic SWAT team against individuals and institutions seen as hostile to Israel and Jews; and a paper that unapologetically displays the scalps of its victims.

They lost $1 million a month? I feel so bad. Snark.

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s pockets must be a lot deeper than those of the Sun‘s investors, because he’s keeping the Washington Times afloat in spite of the fact that it has lost money every year since its launch in 1982. However, even Moon had to scale back a bit and let go of some staffers earlier this year. Times are hard.

I’m not a regular reader of the Tribune and cannot comment on its quality. The Times, which I do read, has much room for improvement in its journalistic standards. Plus, the entire business model on which newspapers rested is eroding away; people just don’t sit and read newspapers any more. However, I think with imaginative and forward-thinking management, the NY Times could evolve into a great news provider for the 21st century. We’ll see what happens.

However, I don’t see propaganda rags turning a profit, ever. I don’t think there are pockets deep enough to carry out Lulu’s plans.

10 thoughts on “Newspaper Crisis

  1. I think there’s hope for the NYT “evolving ito a great news provider for the 21st century”. They still have a great brand and haven’t hemorraged quite as much talent as the country’s other leading papers.

    I sense that newspapers are bifurcating. There will be a few (maybe just one) like the NYT, which will provide a high quality product to a high quality audience – and these will struggle and innovate their way to a select 21st century readership. The remainder will downward spiral to provide little more than local news plus classifieds – a glorified PennySaver with the usual lowbrow editorial content, a good vehicle for wingnut bile, and right/left foodfights. I’ve watched newspapers struggle between these two business models, including the big ones like the WaPo and the LAT.

    The rights’ dreams of turning these papers into propaganda rags is both funny and sad. Sad because it works in some cases, not so well in others – Glenn Greenwald has documented the way the WaPo has turned itself into a right wing rag, and has lost subscribers at the same time.

    Here in LA, myself and tons of others keep hoping one of our local moguls will pick up the LAT and breathe life back into it. We long for the glory days, long past, when Otis Chandler, of the powerful Chandler family ran it. Given the general struggle of newsprint media, I’m not hopeful, unless a new owner has clear and positive direction, lots of patience, and deep pockets. For whatever reasons, Zell beat out the local moguls when he scooped up the LAT as part of the Tribune deal. And it’s not clear yet if the LAT will emerge for sale, on its own, through the Tribune’s bankruptcy.

    Former Los Angeles mayor, Richard Riordan, floated the notion of starting another, presumably center-right paper in LA, to compete with the LAT – this was about five years ago,shortly after Riordan left office. Riordan is a sharp business guy, with lots of contacts, and yet this notion has quietly died. Somewhere along the way I suspect he was talked out of it, or he got cold feet after seeing what a tough business newspapers are in right now.

  2. They have already been mostly fired from their jobs, but one arts writer who remains – Roger Ebert – has expressed dissatisfaction towards the celebrity culture of Lifestyle and Entertainment, which now “supercedes” what used to be available to the field of art criticism.

    Here’s Douglas McClennan over at ARTicles, the mouthpiece of the National Arts Journalism Program:

    “It seems to me that this bluster about arts journalism leaving the daily newspaper is more about the crumbling state of newspapers and their reinvention than it is the disappearance of intelligent reporting or criticism. Intelligent journalism isn’t going away. There’s definitely a market for it. Newspapers are killing themselves as they take away readers’ reasons to pay attention to them. Fine. Let’s get over it and go to where the good stuff is.”

  3. Newspapers were slow to adapt to the internet. They only recently began to respond – haltingly, and not always successfully.
    When the NY Times first tried to adapt to the internet, it put their Op-Ed writers behind a pay wall. I paid. It took them about a year to realize how stupid that was. The WSJ, on the other hand, gives you their right-wing OP-ED writers for free. You pay for the on-line WSJ news (prior to ‘Murderoch,’ a great newspaper), from what I remember.
    (Admission: I’m old-school. I love spending Sunday’s with the NY Times. I like having the ink on my fingers. That’s a feeling that no PC or laptop can ever top).
    In urban area’s, with mass transportation, newspapers will always have a place. Riders like to read while they commute.
    In suburban and rural areas, they also have their place. Local news and politics.
    And let’s not even mention the ad’s and coupons!
    Newspapers will find their place. It just won’t be as as high-profile as before.

  4. The newspapers are hurting for the same reasons as the steel, auto, retail, hell just about every industry: We are in a deep recession. Newspapers rely heavily on the auto and real-estate industry for much of its ad money. Well the real-estate and auto industries ain’t spending any money these days. So if we would stop shopping at Wal-mart, stop buying foreign cars, stop our business leaders from shipping our entire economy overseas, and things will turn around again, hopefully before we lose everything.

  5. Brillliant idea, Michelle! Yes, yes, gather together all your uberwingnutty pals, and solicit their every last dime for your print-media venture! May I also suggest that you purchase Western Union, the Ford Motor Company, Smith Corona… and perhaps there’s still a German zeppelin in a warehouse somewhere, that could be yours for a song. (Complete with swastika insignias; wouldn’t that be adorable?)

    The thought of those clowns going broke by snapping up 20th Century technology… better than a happy-hour margarita, I tell you.

  6. c u n d gulag, the NYT was free in ALL sections for years–a good ten years or so–before they did that TimesSelect nonsense. I started reading the NYT, especially the columnists, online in the mid-90s, but TimesSelect (aka the op-ed pay firewall) was introduced in 2005. It lasted until September 2007, and those who were savvy could always find the column text elsewhere anyway. Regardless, there was quite an uproar online when TimesSelect was first announced, as the content you’d been able to access for free yesterday was suddenly unavailable without payment today.

    Far more surprising is that, when TimesSelect went away, so did the payments for archived articles, which made far more sense to me, considering the vast archive they were making available. Payment for those articles was in effect from the beginning, and while it was usually only a buck or two for an article more than…90 days? old, it was still a deterrent. These days, you can get anything out of their archives for nothing.

  7. Is my assumption right? Right-wing newspapers flop for lack of subscribers: Right-wing talk radio draws millions (of bucks and listeners): Ergo, right-wingers don’t read.

    I always suspected same. An aside – the author of a new book on Murdoch said that same can’t stand O’Reilly’s guts but loves the cash he generates for the Fox Network – which kind of says what the media businesses are really all about these days.

  8. The Trib used to be pretty good – with the exception of ALWAYS endorsing a republican for president from Lincoln until Bush – until 2008, when it endorsed favorite son Obama. But, It recently had a complete makeover that made it less like a real paper ( NYT, WashPost) and more like a crappy one ( USAtoday ) – Lots of photos and crappy graphics – now it sucks. I get Dilbert online now.

    Zell is running it into Chapter 11 and into the ground.

  9. The LA times has been going down hill ever since Zell bought the Tribune company. Their op-ed page is a joke. It makes one wonder how such a hick was able to rally enough resources to buy it in the first place and then run it into the ground. Somehow I’m sure he’ll come out smelling like a rose just like all the investment bankers have. The next shoe to drop in this on-going economic disaster will be commercial real estate and the leveraged buy-out deals (LBOs) made in the past 10 years as they are going to unwind to the tune of billions in losses. As I figured all along our own fascist Canadian government with Steve Harpo in charge is about to cut spending and tell the Detroit 3 to take a hike. Despite Canada’s “good economic fundamentals” I’m anticipating a million plus Canadian jobs up in smoke in the next 18 months. At this point it looks like it will be worse than it had to be.

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