For an industry supposedly in touch with breaking events and trends, the newspaper business has been extraordinarily thick-headed in understanding the looming failure of its traditional business model. Now, this failure is coming home to roost.
We have chronicled
the bad bets made by Pinch Sulzberger at the New York Times Company, but others have actually gambled and lost even more money by failing to realize that the internet has changed everything for those who made their living cutting down innocent trees and applying ink to the resulting paper as a method of disseminating the news.
Probably the most spectacular bad bets, surpassing even Pinch's purchase of the Boston Globe, were McClatchy's purchase of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in 1998, followed by its acquisition of the Knight-Ridder chain of papers in 2006. The Strib was subsequently sold for $670 million less than McClatchy paid, and recently McClatchy took an after tax write-down of 1.3 billion dollars on K-R.
McClatchy has sold off a number of K-R properties, among them the San Jose Mercury-News
. Today, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post chronicles
the downsizing efforts of the new owner, Media News, a company controlled by Dean Singleton, who is renowned for cost-cutting and low cost publishing. Kurtz uses himself uses the word "dynamite" to describe the process.
The article is nothing short of devastating. A couple of highlights:
"The very top of the organization is saying, blow up the newsroom," says Chris O'Brien, a reporter immersed in the overhaul effort. Under one prototype, the paper would be cut back to three sections: Live, Play and Innovate. In a second blueprint, it would junk everything except Silicon Valley
The Mercury News is limping along with 200 journalists -- half the number who were employed several years ago.
After axing half its journalists, the Merc is preparing really significant cuts. Most of the survivors are expected to find themselves writing for the paper's website, not its print edition. They are not optimistic:
An editors' blog chronicling the debate is, at times, brutally candid. "Personality: The Merc has none. Or at least it's not one that's immediately apparent," one entry says. "We repeatedly heard that people felt the writing and storytelling was flat, monotonous. . . . Many Merc staffers remain cynical that the process is going to lead anywhere."
Some comments have also been harsh. "This initiative is about feigning interest in what people want," one man wrote. "Then the Merc will find ways to cut the product even more." Another said the paper's writing style "is not just bland, it's simplistic. Most of the articles seem to be written at a 6th grade level at best."
Perhaps most discouraging of all for newspaper journalists is the news that after all the cuts already made at the Merc, the biggest complaints from readers are over difficulties finding the crossword and Sudoku puzzles in the reconfigured paper.
Well, at least nobody can use the internet to line a birdcage.
Hat tip: David Paulin
So they are looking for “Personality...” and “trying to re-write their paper to get more “personality” ...
Why don’t they try “Integrity” or “Honesty” ?
Then they’d have a national audience that WOULD subscribe to their “new” paper.