Why a once-profitable industry suddenly seems as outmoded as America’s automakers is a tale that involves arrogance, mistakes, eroding trust and the rise of a digital world in which newspapers feel compelled to give away their content.
Was the industry really ever that profitable? Here’s an excerpt from the Twitter feed from the Rocky Mountain’s newsroom when Scripps executive Rich Boehne was answering questiosn on why Scripps was shutting the paper:
At a time when such companies as General Motors, Home Depot and Citigroup are ordering mass layoffs, the loss of 12,000 newspaper jobs last year may seem small. But the industry’s woes — plunging advertising revenue, declining circulation and burgeoning high-tech competition — seem to be worsening by the week. And that has critics questioning why newspaper companies didn’t adapt to the Internet more quickly.
Glenn Thrush of Politico, however, disagrees:
Nobody who asserts that newspaper execs have been arrogant and stupid will ever print a retraction. But as a print refugee (Newsday), I can tell you management saw the Web threat coming for a long time and tried everything, too much, to cope — all to no avail.
If papers are so scared of the “icky” public, explain to me this: Why has the New York Post, the leanest, meanest and most street-wise paper in the country, never turned a serious profit?
The problem is that nothing works, apart from bypassing the industry model and starting from scratch.
The one unmentionable in American life isn’t race or Social Security, it’s technology. Woe betide anybody who blames their laptop for anything more serious than a sore neck. But the Web is killing papers, with or without the intervention of idiotic (or inspired) management.
I have a different theory. Cable television was already changing how we consumed news and information by the time the Internet caught on, and it’s the real “killer” in the story. The question going forward, however, is, When will the Internet kill cable?