Friday, April 3, 2009

Newspaper death spiral: Could it be a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Are the woes at major metropolitan newspapers partly the result of negative news coverage about them?
I’ve read some articles recently stating that newspaper ad sales have gotten a whole lot tougher with all the talk about newspapers downsizing, going out of business or switching to Web-only editions.
A similar phenomenon is happening with General Motors. GM's sales have tanked as talk of bankruptcy has swirled around the automaker.
Nobody wants to buy a car or get a newspaper subscription from a company they don’t think is going to be around much longer.
Of course, there’s no control set for both of these examples. And each has very complex problems to deal with.
Newspapers have faced declining circulation for decades. (Younger generations don’t read as much.) But things really got dire for papers last year when the economy turned south. Meanwhile, advertising dollars shifted more to the Internet, as overall ad spending started to shrink.
Some media companies brought problems on themselves by taking on too much debt (e.g. the Tribune Co.). Others were struggling No. 2s in their markets already (e.g. The Rocky Mountain News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Chicago Sun-Times) when recession kicked in. And many newspapers failed to address competition from the Web and to rein in costs.
Here’s a rundown of recent newspaper bad news:
  • The New York Times Co. threatened Thursday to shut down the Boston Globe unless the newspaper’s unions swiftly agree to $20 million in concessions.

  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch eliminated 31 open positions and laid off 59 employees companywide on April 2.

  • The Sun-Times Media Group filed for bankruptcy protection on March 31. The Chicago Sun-Times parent is the fifth newspaper publisher in recent months to seek protection from creditors. It joins cross-town rival Chicago Tribune in bankruptcy reorganization.

  • On March 26, Reuters reported that the Washington Post Co. and the New York Times Co. were embarking on new cost cuts in the face of dramatic declines in ad revenue.

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