Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Will newspapers soon be a museum artifact?

Almost five months after graduating from one of the most prestigious journalism school's in the world, I am still not sure if I did the right thing by opting for a print major. I am almost certain that had I been a new media major, I would have been in a better situation than I am in right now.

In the past week, two power-wielding New York City daily newspapers underwent major changes in their existence. One completely stopped production and another changed its layout in an effort to -- what its senior VP of marketing and circulation called -- "trim production costs."

Started as an alternative to The New York Times in April 2002, the New York Sun published its last issue on Sep. 30, 2008. In a letter to readers published on the front page of the Sep. 4 edition, the newspaper's editor-in-chief Seth Lipsky announced that the paper would "cease publication at the end of September unless we succeed in our efforts to find additional financial backing."

On Sep. 30, Lipsky conceded that those efforts were unsuccessful. In another note to his staffers he said,"We have spoken with every individual who seemed to be a prospective partner...But among other problems that we faced was the fact that this month, not to mention this week, has been one of the worst in a century in which to be trying to raise capital, and in the end we were out not only of money but time." This despite Lipsky stating that the last month for The Sun was a record month for its advertising revenues -- up more than 60% over the corresponding month last year.

Not even a week later, beginning Monday, Oct. 6, the New York Times changed its layout yet again. The reason: "We believe it is an effective way to trim production costs while continuing to provide the full breadth and depth of high-quality coverage that you expect of us." But, the trigger to that reasoning was probably this -- The New York Times, the third-largest newspaper in the country, saw a daily circulation slide of 3.85% to 1,077,256, while its Sunday circulation tumbled by 9.3% to 1,476,400 according to data released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations for the six months ended March 31.

In a letter to all its readers last week, The Times announced the consolidation of its 1) Metro section with the main section of the newspaper; and 2) Business and sports sections. Noting that the integration of the sections would "not reduce the space devoted" to the said sections, Yasmin Namini, senior VP, marketing and circulation, ended by pledging to keep the readers well informed.

The Times has kept its promise of not decreasing the space for the Metro section, but in the bargain it has already begun cutting down on the amount of news it provides to its readers. Its main section used to be 30 pages of news -- national and international, with the Metro section being a separate supplement consisting eight pages. After the merger, the main section still totals 30 pages, but eight pages of Metro news has been crammed into it. To their credit, they have managed to keep the business and sports sections to a total of 20 pages.

The statistics for other newspapers around the country is no better. Daily circulation for 530 U.S. newspapers fell 3.57% from the same period last year and among the 601 papers reporting Sunday circulation, its figures dropped 4.59%.

As a thoroughbred print journalist and an eternal optimist, I would love to argue that the decline in the above figures is just a temporary loss of interest in the printed word in the paper form. And, as much as I -- and many of my distinguished colleagues in the print media -- may want to hope against hope in thinking that newspapers will never go out of business in any country, I still ponder over my decision to invest in a print media education.

For the sake of all print journalists, including myself, I hope my doubts are unfounded. Because, a news museum is a parody of what news is -- which is new, current and making history. Not history itself.

Thoughts as of: October 7, 2008.

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