Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Newspaper Armageddon

This hasn't been a particularly good year for newspapers...and I'm not talking about the quality of the editorial product, because there has been some fine journalism done this year. I'm talking about their ability to continue to exist. Sales are down, both in ad revenue and circulation. And if those things are down in election years, then you're in trouble. I don't have the link handy, but the old grey lady, the New York Times, is in deep financial trouble. There were few media outlets producing more important stories on a regular basis in the last US presidential election than the Times, and yet its future is uncertain. And I'm far from the only one who thinks this. Here are a few examples.

There are a lot of consequences to this. Staff are being dumped all over the place. The Sun newspaper chain purged a chunk of its staff a week or so ago, causing at least one student journalist I know to do a small freak out. And hell, I have a great deal of empathy for them. It was a bitch when I was starting out in '95 and I can't imagine how hard it is for a student journalist striking out in the world today, what with newspapers cutting staff, the beginnings of a recession and far too many people disdainful of your chosen profession. I'd be looking at grad schools as a place to hide for several years until the world became less scary. Actually, it wouldn't surprise me at all if universities are one of the big winners in the coming economic troubles as people go back to school.

Along with reporters, the other big causalities are two positions that are near and dear to my heart. One is movie reviewers, which are among the first professions to go. When I was young, I loved Siskel and Ebert and wanted to be a movie reviewer when I grew up. When I joined the Muse back in '90 and realized I could review movies, well, I was a happy man that day. I still have tremendous respect for good movie critics, of which there are few and their numbers are decreasing all the time. Reviewers are among the first positions cut from a newspaper because there are so many syndicated ones to replace you. Plus, there's the growing feeling that people don't pay as much attention to reviewers as they once used to.

The other position taking a beating? Political cartoonists. Which is again a pity. I obviously have a fondness of cartooning, and good political cartoonists can achieve in one image what a talented political writer can spend thousands of words on. I mean, the image below, which I'm shamelessly swiping from Peter's blog, who shameless swiped it from the Seattle Post-Intellegencer, sums up absolutely everything about the Bush years.

(Oh, and in case you felt the urge to strangle President Bush starting to ebb, what with him having less than a month left in office, read this. You're welcome.)

But according to Journalista!, a really good comic (not just super-heroes) website, 2008 has been political cartoonist Armageddon, with papers all over the world laying them off.

I think, if all the doom and gloom we're here about 2009 comes through, things are going to be a lot different when we come out the other side of it - which will be in 2010 if you're an optimist or sometime about 2013 if you're a cynic. Newspapers are going to be one of the things most changed, I think. I hope for the better, but they're going to look significantly different in a few years time.

I read seven papers on a regular basis - The Telegram, The Globe and Mail, The Star, News North, Nunatsiaq News, the Scope and the Muse. I probably read another dozen or more on an infrequent basis, like the Times. None of them are read in hard copy. They're all read online. And in a few years time, I wonder how many will still be printing paper copies. I know this type of thing has been said before - that newsprint was going to go the way of the dodo. But a deep recession has a way of changing the landscape. We'll see what they look like on the other side.

Last Five
1. Shadow of a man - Bedouin Soundclash
2. Nautical disaster - The Tragically Hip*
3. Save me - The Donnas
4. The heart of the matter - Don Henley
5. Dandelion wine - Ron Sexsmith

1 comment:

Mireille Sampson said...

A deep recession does change the landscape, but newspapers were in trouble before this and even before the internet, though both of these things are hastening the demise.

Interesting timing. A couple of days ago I was reading from Warren Buffets' essays. He's got a bit on newspapers (Berkshire Hathaway owns one) and how it was, once upon a time, a dead easy way to get rich. Local paper had a monopoly on information for the town/city, everybody bought it. The came TV, then came internet, no more monopoly, newspapers are less lucrative. Their business model was built for a different time and situation. BH still keeps the newspaper going, for the sake of journalism and his own love of newspapers, as long as it still turns some sort of profit.

Media won't die, it will just change shape. It always does.