Tuesday, 3rd March 2009
Nancy Davis Kho
In the continuing downward saga of the American newspaper industry, the last few weeks have been a particularly tough ride. On Tuesday Feb 24, the Hearst Corporation announced plans to seek radical cost savings at the San Francisco Chronicle (http://www.sfgate.com) in an effort to stanch deepening losses. The changes are expected to include deep cuts in both union and non-union staff, and if those steps don't work, Hearst plans to seek a buyer for the newspaper (http://digbig.com/4yjhc.)
The Chronicle lost more than US$50million in 2008, and without changes, is expected to lose as much or more in 2009. Hard to know how to apportion the blame, but it is some combination of lost subscription revenue as readers turn to identical content online for free, corporate ad-buyers feeling the squeeze, and rising production expenses. Former Chron Editor in Chief Phil Bronstein still blogs for the paper and this week fell on his sword for what he terms "a failure of imagination" in not heading the crisis off. (http://digbig.com/4yjhd) Nice of him to offer, but as he says even his critics have something in common with him: 'all of us are still leaning heavily on the I-have-a-"someone-will-figure-it-out" dream.'
If Chron staffers (and freelancers like myself) want to see a vision of life as the biggest American city without its own daily newspaper, they need look no further than Denver ,Colorado's Rocky Mountain News (http://www.rockymountainnews.com/). The paper, which published first in 1859, was put up for sale by corporate owner E.W. Scripps in December 2008; not finding a buyer in eight weeks, the paper was shuttered on February 26, just 55 days shy of its 150th anniversary. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is next on the block, with owner Hearst announcing it will close or make web-only that paper if a buyer doesn't come forward by March.
With no one provding the magic solution of Bronstein's dreams, papers from Philadelphia to Phoenix are in jeopardy. Even the venerable New York Times is suffering from depressed ad revenue and welcomed the investment of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú for a $250 million loan back in January. One thing is for sure: there are no winners in this slow fade to a paperless nation.
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