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A Date with the Butcher


picard.jpg

Here is a question for the daily newspaper industry:

    When does the bovine brain realize it’s entered the abattoir?

Does it finally realize that something is amiss as it trots up the slaughterhouse ramp? Does it realize only as it receives the fatal blow? Does it ever realize at all? When should the steer have stopped following the herd instinct?

I ask because I don’t think that the American daily newspaper industry realizes that its slaughter has already begun. Slaughter may sound overly dramatic, but I think the evidence makes it an accurate description of the situation at hand. A hand with a cleaver.

I think the industry has started to realize that it’s being bloodied, but it doesn’t yet realizes that its gutting is the reason. Perhaps in a bovine way, the newspaper industry thinks it is the master of its own destiny. The reality, however, is the newspaper industry stopped growing beefy long ago and has been milked beyond the ‘mature business’ phase, so its owners have begun to lead it by the nose to the butcher.

Consider the American daily newspaper industry’s view up the slaughterhouse ramp:

• The industry lost 2,500 local newsroom jobs last year, numbers that have been increasing annually despite the industry mooing that its news coverage must get better and that local news is its core purpose.
• Its circulation and readership has been steadily declining for generations, despite the U.S. population and the number of college-educated Americans steadily growing; yet the industry continues to chew its traditional cud about how it is an absolute necessity for all Americans.
• The industry still claims to be a potent force in America, yet its major stockholders see that as just bull and have devalued the industry’s equity by more than 40 percent during the past five years.
• Knight Ridder, America’s second largest chain of newspapers and a pioneer in the industry’s new-media efforts, provided a rich milk of more than 20 percent profit margins to its stockholders, but they led it to be sold this year.

• Even the largest public shareholders of The New York Times Company have been clamoring for changes in control at that company, despite acknowledging that it publishes the best newspaper in the English-speaking world. Large public shareholders at Tribune Company are similarly upset about that company’s decline value.

But why believe me that this is the situation? For years, I’ve been warning that the end is near for the American daily newspaper industry unless it makes radical changes, but I’m an independent consultant who works for a tiny firm that isn’t associated with any media industry think tank; any university; or any big brand name, multi-industry consulting company. So, I’m easy to ignore by an industry that’s largely in a state of bovine denial. It’s also easys to ignore my warnings that the industry’s new-media efforts won’t save it unless those make the radical changes, too.

So, who will be believed?

I hope Professor Robert G. Picard, perhaps the world’s leading expert on media economics. He is Hamrin Professor of Media Economics and Director of the Media Management and Transformation Centre at J�nk�ping University in Sweden and currently a resident fellow at Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. Picard clearly has better credentials than mine.

In Austin on April 7 during his keynote speech at the 7th International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas, Picard (pictured above) gave a dire presentation forecasting the end of the newspaper industry and asserting that:

    “the current strategies of publishing companies to gain economies of scale and scope, to move into cross-platform content provision, and to maximize return across a portfolio of content products will be effective only for the short-and mid-term.”

Let me rephrase that in words that perhaps a cow could understand:

Nor is following the herd instinct. (What’s convergence, really? See this this definition for a truthful pointer about it).

But let’s not digress from Picard’s speech.…

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