One afternoon I asked my daughter what was interesting about her day at school. She said one of her teachers had delivered a short monologue to the class about how no one reads newspapers anymore, you get a lot better information on the internet, and so on. As the editor’s daughter, she felt a little defensive of dad’s business but wasn’t prepared to debate the teacher.
My first reaction was along the lines of: Hey, teacher, how about picking on somebody your own size?
But of course the teacher intended no offense. He was voicing the conventional wisdom. And, as is sometimes the case, the conventional wisdom is heavier on the conventional than it is on the wisdom.
Don’t get me wrong, big changes are afoot in the newspaper business, and people like me are scrambling to adjust. But it is certainly not the end of the world.
The circulation of the printed paper is declining and print revenues are either static or falling. The declines are most dramatic in classified advertising, which is moving rapidly to the internet. As if that weren’t enough, the typically cyclical newspaper advertising business is in a down cycle and has been for a while.
At the same time, online audiences are growing, and internet revenues are rising.
The good news for us is that the drop in print readership has been relatively modest and more than offset by increases in online readers. In fact, when you combine our print readership and the unduplicated reach added by online users, the Daily News today has the largest audience in its history.
The problem is that online revenues are not increasing as fast as print revenues are declining. Newspapers are still profitable, just not as profitable as in the past. But the trend line isn’t pretty.
That same dynamic is playing out at every newspaper in the country, and it creates a double-bind for editors: maintain the printed newspaper, greatly expand content for the web, and do it all with less resources than we’ve had in the past.
I intend this as an explanation, not a whine. Lots of industries are having tough times. Think about the automobile, airline or financial services industries. The music and movie businesses are in flux. And this will be a tough year for residential real estate. We sometimes summarize this by saying, “It’s not raining on us; it’s just raining.”
So, for both short-term and long-term reasons, newspaper companies are being forced to change and innovate, and the ones that can’t do it well enough or fast enough may not survive.
The Daily News has probably changed more in the last 15 months than it did in the previous 15 years. I’ve written about a lot of the changes here and in the paper: the size and shape of the TV News, the stock listings, the Voice of the Times, the Sunday comics, celebrity news, the promotion of online content and more.
Most of these changes have been driven by our need to reallocate resources to our internet efforts or sometimes simply to do less with less.
Some changes, such as the focus on local news on the front page, is a recognition of the intense, 24-hour-a-day availability of national and international news from a multitude of other sources. My daughter’s teacher may think there’s better information on the internet, but he probably doesn’t realize that an estimated 85 percent of local news content (on the web or elsewhere) originates with newspaper reporters.
Reallocating resources to grow our online presence isn’t an explanation that goes over well with all print readers. The typical response I hear: “I don’t care about the internet, and I don’t like you changing the paper.”
Believe me, I would be perfectly happy to be the old dog performing old tricks. We just don’t have that choice. Our strength is local news coverage, and the changes we’ve made in the paper are designed to preserve or enhance our local news efforts in the paper and online.
We take our responsibilities as Alaska’s largest news organization very seriously. Whether we are covering public corruption or the homefront consequences of the Iraq war, the effort to build a gas line or the effects of global warming in Alaska, we know that if we don’t do the story, it may not get done. We will not waver from that local news focus no matter how much we reinvent the way we do business.
There are more changes coming. Here are some important ones you’ll see in the paper early next year:
> We will extend the local emphasis on the front page to the entire A section. All state and local news, including business and obituaries, will move to the first section.
> The B section will no longer be the Alaska section. It will become the Nation/World section and will include all national and international news that doesn’t make it onto the front page, along with national business stories, the editorial/op-ed pages and weather.
> The Sports and Life sections will change slightly. Sports will be better organized and labeled. On days when the classified section is smaller, those pages will appear in the back of a Sports/Classified section. The daily TV listings on the back page of Life will move inside the section and go from color to black and white. The daily comics will not change.
> Because business news will be in the A and B sections, there will no longer be a stand-alone business section, either daily or Sunday.
> Also on Sunday, the content of the Ideas section will be relocated; the separate stand-alone section will go away. The editorial/op-ed pages will move to the Nation/World section, as with the other days of the week, and Science will become part of the Outdoors/Travel section. All local business content, including our regular columnists, will be in the A section.
I know that many readers will be upset with another round of changes in the paper -- in this case mostly the shuffling of content, but also the loss of some. I’ve tried to explain why putting out the same paper we always have is not an option, but I know many of you will not be convinced. I’m sure you will feel free to share your opinions with me. You can do that, or if you have questions you’d like me to answer, you can send them to me here at email@example.com, or call our comment line at 257-4333.