The Newspaper Gild

Friday, February 06, 2009


The newspaper will soon be dead. Or maybe it just seems that way, because the media only report the bad news. So says a new website called the Newspaper Project, started by a handful of media executives, including the publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Brian Tierney. The full story, says Tierney, is not getting out.

Comments [9]


Feb. 17 2009 08:08 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Three days ago I received an email from the New Haven Register, a paper I had long ago stopped reading despite knowing and liking a couple of reporters it had the sense to retain despite otherwise gutting it's newsroom. The email said that "someone" (perhaps one of my reporter friends or maybe someone editing the editorial page hoping I'd start writing controversial and, even sometimes congratulatory, letters again) had suggested I might enjoy receiving a daily update of its headline stories.

I agreed to receive the update, but when and if they ask me to pay for it, that's over. Even when I was still reading the "tactile" version, it would be one I found abandoned in a downtown coffee shop.

Feb. 10 2009 12:57 AM
Ana Landis Velazquez from New York, NY

I found Bob Garfield's comments on Brian Tierney's ending suggestions that newspapers claim their self-worth by charging fees to be utterly ridiculing Brian's great idea. It was as though Bob had no faith in printed newspaper readership or the public's ability to pay for a valued service: fine journalism, crafted locally and globally. Not to mention that wonderful daily activity-- reading the morning paper. Bob, do not denouce a tactile ritual which many people around the world enjoy and pay money to do so.
Ana in the East Village

Feb. 08 2009 04:06 PM
MB from Philadelphia, PA

Here is another "sample size of one" from Philadelphia. I have not purchased a single copy of the print Inquirer since the price went to $.75 while at the same time the quality of the news coverage (as well as the trim size) dipped into noticeable decline after the sale of the paper. There are some very good columnists and journalists left on the paper but it has been gutted over the last several years since new ownership. Does Brian Tierney care about my (former) newspaper reading habits that included purchasing the paper in the morning and on Sundays, reading it cover to cover? Does he care that I bought the paper for the work of their prize-winning investigative journalists rather than for the sports section?

Since there are a few very good writers left on the paper and since there are very important news events going on in Philadelphia, I check the paper only on the web and lately only in response to a blog comment or email about the very few important articles still published. The City Paper and Philadelphia Weekly are doing a better job in covering the important issues of our city--and they're free, in print and online.

This story neglected to mention that the Inquirer's editorial page must now regularly include parenthetical disclosures about Brian Tierney's conflicts of interests regarding current events and his personal, controversial business deals. This story omitted the recent news that Tierney sought assistance to bail out the paper from Governor Ed Rendell who was willing to leverage the state's pension funds to support the paper (which raised questions about the paper's ability to cover Rendell properly if such a deal went through).

I think the "real" story here is how Brian Tierney belongs to a group of wealthy, politically connected Philadelphians who use their political influence for personal gain while gutting pillars of democracy, including a once excellent newspaper that often kept the power players in line.

Feb. 08 2009 12:25 PM
chuck thompson from Anchorage AK

Each spring when I leave for my summer job on the Bering Sea, I call the Anchorage Daily News to cancel my subscription and each time I get the same old run-around about putting my account "on hold" (for 6 months?!?) or having the account reactivate automatically or any of many features I simply don't want. I just want my account closed for now, okay?

Each classified ad I place in the ADN is expensive (often over a hundred bucks for a single week of 4 lines of text, with no photo) resulting in few if any calls.
Craig's list, meanwhile, is free, includes photos, and gets immediate, tangible results.

After putting up with this nonsense year after year, I finally quit subscribing upon my return. Enough was finally enough.

I DO love my morning newspaper but honestly, the industry really needs to re-think their business model starting, I contend, with a critical eye towards becoming once again customer-friendly, something which, to date, I find entirely lacking. For my money, the industry is suffering from a self-imposed bleed from routinely shooting themselves in the foot.

Feb. 07 2009 06:44 PM
HWinter from Paris, France

I'd be cautiously optimistic about the opening comment lauding Sarkozy's newspaper subscriptions for young adults. It is widely known in France that he has substantial control of the French media, especially through financial and political favors. He, or someone very near to him, substantially profits from the deal. Add to that the propaganda value of feeding your party line to your potential future supporters at such a crucial, malleable age, and his newspaper deal is downright scary.

Feb. 07 2009 04:59 PM
Craig Hester from Connecticut

Personally, I found the anecdote of the individual who paid 50 cents for just the sports section to be sophomoric. A sample size of one? The behavior of single copy buyers is exceptionally difficult to quantify and if there are newspapers that increased or saw no losses following a single copy increase, these are reports that never crossed my desk in more than a decade.

As to the model of on-line newspaper readership versus the printed product, I'm incredulous as to the real viability of charging for information on-line. Information has become an aggregate commodity. The local news argument is the most valid here, but there is a generation coming of age that is exceptionally discerning in what information they find worthy of paying for.

The New York Times actually seems to have a better approach. The idea of not asking for money from a reader on-line, but rather information seems to be more in sync with the current culture of the web. You have to "subscribe" to It's free, but they can then leverage that information to target ads and grow alternative revenue.

But my primary concern with the argument about the shift from printed product to on-line revenue is that this is not a wave. It is more of a painful trickle along the lines of Asian water torture.

The erosion of home subscribers is a slow, insidious type that undermines the very business model. As delivery routes become more and more spread out, geographic footprints contract. Yet the cost per copy delivered rises while the core expenses of plant, printing, newsroom staff, etc. remain constant. Or worse, Newspapers slash these budgets, thus reducing quality and perpetuating the cycle.

The demise of the American newspaper would deeply sadden me. But, hearing the same talking points that were articulated years ago when this slide began worries me that the industry hasn't really woken up to its real underlying flaws, both external and internal.

Craig Hester
Former Circulation Director

Feb. 07 2009 04:31 PM
Craig Hester from Connecticut

I listened intently to this report on the "spin" of the Newspaper Project regarding the state of the industry and it's persecution in the media. While I agree that rumors of the demise of the American newspaper are (at least somewhat) greatly exaggerated, I found the pillars of the arguments to have exceptionally weak foundations.

Having spent 14 years in newspapers in the circulation discipline, what I heard was the same, tired platform promulgated by the industry leaders to which I was beholden. I make no pretense that I am qualified to speak to the entirety of whether newspapers will or will not survive. But I am comfortable speaking to specific assertions in this story.

Firstly, the argument about price elasticity in subscription and single copy sales is hollow to someone intimate with the inner-workings and numbers of circulation. You notice that the publisher mentioned increased revenue, but there was no discussion of circ. volumes (and no effort to press for that information).

Having gone through numerous price increases during my career, I was exposed to a mountain of data (and shared the same with myriad colleagues) that increased prices drove down circulation volumes. Much of this became unrecoverable in the long run. Pass along readership of single copy issues spikes and rarely, if ever, returns to pre-price increase levels and loyal subscribers disappear.

In any price increase, this was not an "if" proposition but a "how much" question and how to mitigate it. Specific, detailed plans with charts, graphs and time horizons were required for any pending increase.

I found the anecdote of the individual who paid 50 cents for just the sports section to be sophomoric. A sample size of one? The behavior of single copy buyers is exceptionally difficult to quantify and if there are papers that increased or saw no losses after a single copy increase, these are reports that never crossed my desk in more than a decade.

Continued in 2nd post.

Feb. 07 2009 04:28 PM
Paul MacArthur

The newspaper industry's failure to monetize online content while devaluing the printed product has put the industry into its current financial dilemma.

You can read my comments regarding the industry's problems here:

Feb. 07 2009 04:08 PM

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