Are papers in their death throes?

January 28, 2007 · Posted in Uncategorized 

There’s a raging discussion on my NewspaperVideo email list. The news of accelerated media job cuts (Pace of Downsizing Accelerates) has put everyone in panic.

I don’t know if we’re all fawked. I suspect the New York Times and the Washington Post will continue in some form. The LA Times, they’re f*d, though. The super-local super-small papers have a chance of surviving.

But us mid-size metros are in a world of trouble, I think. We depend on a mass audience but our audience is imploding, scattering like a supernova to the far corners of the media universe. Savvy marketers — from the white house to your local auto dealer — are bypassing mass media to sell directly to the consumer. At some point the balance will tilt and advertisers will leave our print product like field mice fleeing a grass fire.

As much as I’d like journalism to be free, it ain’t. We spend gazillions covering the news. We spent megabucks covering hurricanes for the last few years. We spent megabucks covering Haiti, and Cuba, and the rest of Florida — our back yard. Real journalism costs real money. Lawyers for FOI requests and record requests aren’t cheap. Helicopters cost $750 an hour when the school bus gets hijacked. Heck, it costs $25 just to park to cover an assignment. The sat phone is $2 a minute when the storm hits. Journalism is definitely not free.

What are we going to do? Maybe we’ll continue as an advertising company at a hyper-local level. And just maybe, a few of us can make a living as content producers. The Associated Press is a content company. Even the local dinner theater is a content company. They make a living. Maybe we can, too.

We multimedia producers have a highly saleable product. The gazillion outlets for TV are hungry for content. We can sell ’em what we produce after we’ve posted it on our web site. We can produce high-quality stuff that gets hundreds of thousands of hits, instead of hundreds. We can be the authors of all the content that the aggregators will eventually have to pay for when the AP wire service model wastes away. (We’re already talking about dropping AP.) But the transition isn’t going to be pleasant.

We had the belt-tightening meeting yesterday. No layoffs, though, they promise. Me, I’m still pushing to get a broadcast camera in the hopes of having marketable footage. Ain’t gonna happen, but we can dream, can’t we?

At least us new media folks will be the last ones out.


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  • Filthy Lucre: I don’t control what ads run here… caveat emptor