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Has the internet hurt newspapers?

July 20, 2012
That is a question that I get a lot. Frequently it is not even a question. People will say something along the lines of, "Wow, you guys must really be reeling from all the business you're losing to the internet."

Sometimes they'll just say, "Wow, sorry you're in the newspaper business."

I usually just look at them, smile a bit and then explain that yes, the large daily newspapers are in trouble, but the medium and small-sized community newspapers, in most cases, are not only doing well, but may have a very bright future.

Often they will be skeptical, but it's true all the same.

It is such as shame that newspapers have received such bad press. Ironic, isn't it?

So, what is going on here – from an "insider's" viewpoint?

I'll give it a shot. "Content" is really the key, and the "business model" is the second part of the equation.

The short "content" version is that generally speaking, the local content that the smaller community newspapers write is not readily available online as a cohesive, easily-digested package that is vetted, reliable and well-organized.

Yes, a lot of local content is online, but you have to search for it or receive it from RSS feeds in bits and pieces from the search engines.

By contrast, much of the content in the larger daily newspapers is national news and national sports, which are easily found online.

Usually the large dailies have a local section, but as with the case of the AJC today, their "local" means "above the river" or "inside the perimeter"… or worse.

It is neither very local nor very deep. So there is not a lot of "ownership" by readers.

On the "business model" side of the equation again, the large daily papers have been absolutely hammered. Classified – including help-wanted and real estate - was about 35 percent of total revenue.

That's gone.

Circulation was another say 15 to 20 percent of revenue, and much of that is gone because the content that readers want is now more available elsewhere.

Automotive and department store advertising have fallen drastically from prior levels – at least, my guess, – 50 percent or more.

The last column that is holding up the foundation of the large daily newspapers is all those flyers and sales magazines that are inserted into the Sunday papers.

This is what is keeping many of the large dailies afloat.

This business competes with the post office. And fortunately for the newspapers, the postal rates continue to go through the roof.

A large percentage of circulation for the smaller newspapers is free, so there have been no significant "hits" on circulation like there have been in the large daily papers.

The department store and automotive advertising have never been a large component of our advertising base, and we never relied on classified advertising to the degree that the large dailies have relied on it.

To a large degree, the community newspapers have not suffered in the critical areas that the large daily newspapers have suffered.

In his letter to the publishers of the newspapers that his company Berkshire Hathaway recently purchased, Warren Buffet stated that he has confidence in the value and the future of newspapers in this country – especially the medium and smaller papers. He said that the only time American newspapers fail is when one or more of the following factors were present:

1. The town or city had two or more competing dailies; 2.The paper lost its position as the primary source of information important to its readers; or 3. The town or city did not have a pervasive self-identity.

Meaningful content and connectedness to the community that is connected and has a soul is what the future of newspapering is all about.

The demand for what we do is not diminishing. In fact, it is probably doing just the opposite: it is growing.

And you can help that happen by telling merchants that you saw their ads in our newspapers and that if they want to reach the community, that the community's newspaper is the way to do it.

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  1. report print email
    The Collapse of Print
    July 22, 2012 | 11:09 AM

    Ray, you are partially correct. The daily's will fall first because of the overhead. Ultimately the weekly's will follow. Print is an antiquated product much like the typewriter. There is still a demand for news, it's how people consume it that's different. Look at the music industry. People still like music. When was the last time you bought a CD. People consume music by downloading on ITunes. The problem with the newspaper model online is it's broken. Your trading dollars for pennies. Without a print product, nobody makes a living on their website. For the print industry this is very painful. But remember, their demise creates huge opportunities for entrepreneurs to step in and take those dollars.

    Sam Anthony
  2. report print email
    Only half the story...
    July 22, 2012 | 04:31 PM

    The print media, just the main stream broadcast and cable media (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC), long ago abandoned any sense of subjective reporting.

    The New York Times for example was once the most respected media outlet (print or otherwise) in the nation. Over the last two decades or so the NYT has gone to a full left slant bias, and is unapologetic about it. The same can't be said about CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC. They try and hide their bias, but they can't. MSNBC is to the left what Fox News is to the right, so those two cancel each other out.

    In any event, the "dinosaur media" as I like to call it has marketed itself right into oblivion. People want facts, not objective rants cloaked as news (Obama is all good, Bush is all bad). There is a reason why the tremendous growth of the Pajama Media and other "new media" outlets has happened: the free market of the main stream media was no longer producing (partisan water-carrying shills) what the people wanted (unbiased reporting of the facts).

  3. report print email
    Don't gloat too much....
    July 23, 2012 | 09:30 AM

    I'm sitting down at my computer much as I do a few times during the day, reading through the news. Let me share my progression, in order:

    1. Large national news site, run by a traditional news outlet.

    2. The AJC.

    3. A local blog.

    4. Your site.

    5. The Alpharetta Patch.

    Keep in mind years ago I couldn't imagine not subscribing to the AJC. I also used to read the paper that you still kindly leave on my driveway once a week. But now I never look at the print version of either.

    My real point is that you shouldn't get so smug concerning your "exclusive franchise" on smalltown news. While I check out the headlines and the occaisional article on your site, local blogs actually do a great job reporting on local issues these days.

  4. report print email
    Agree, Ray
    July 23, 2012 | 10:55 PM

    I love your paper and read it cover to cover every week. I also check your site from time to time. There is something about holding a newspaper in my hand in the morning, with my coffee, before I start my day, that just seems right.

    Sam, Jason, and Greg obviously didnt read your piece. They are still referring to national affiliates (iTunes, ABC, AJC). You are the only local news source around after Patch ultimately fails, whether Sam, Jason, or Greg would like to admit. It's not a bad thing. Your reporters do a great job of "covering the news" and I have no idea what Jason is referring to with his bias, leftist/right wing garble. Show me the bias in the cover of last week's Revue, Greg. It is great news, deal with it!

    Keep it up Ray. I love your paper and support your advertisers. TV didnt kill the radio, instant coffee didnt kill coffee, and the internet will not kill newspapers. If anything has stood the test of time, it has been pront media.

  5. report print email
    Newspapers will survive
    July 25, 2012 | 09:00 AM

    As I left my house this morning to go to the office, I unplugged all of the devices I had to charge overnight so that I may remain connected to the "grid." This is a job requirement. These include a laptop, I-Pad, Wifi 4G device and a I-Pad cradle keyboard. I for one relish the opportunity to get off the "grid" and simply physically hold a quality newspaper and relish it. Newspapers will continue to serve a smaller dedicated readership. I surmise as the "greatest generation" and subsequent generations age, those demographics will continue to use newspapers as a source of news. Those younger today will be tired of spending their entire life on the "grid." Life forces those type of changes. A viable newspaper is one that provides factual accurate information, provides interesting editorials and area based interest articles. The Revue and News and Appen affiliated newspapers are outstanding newspapers. (However Ray- the front cover page is not the place to put a political opinion editorial.) These papers will need to have an online componet but the need will still be there and I for one will fully support them.

  6. report print email
    Don't Gloat, Collapse, etc
    July 25, 2012 | 02:31 PM

    Did not mean to appear like I was gloating. That ain't me! What I think I was trying to say is that, sure, there is a lot of local and micro local news online, absolutely. And if you take the time you can find the sites and between them probably stay up with some local news. Patch is quite good but it probably won't make it. My main point is that it is a lot of work and there are issues on consistency and accuracy. Not that newspapers have a monopoly on accuracy but typically we have professional reporters and editors who create our news and most of the news reporting online that is not the media is not written by trained journalists. It is important I tell you. Also, we package our news in one simple, tactile, vehicle. That is, it is the opposite of the high labor (surfing the web) , stressful, too much imformation, on-the-grid overload that the net often creates. I don't know about you but I am not terribly crazy about all the noise today that disrupts and invades my life and environment. Newspapers to a degree for many address that and are a welcome alternative. Easy, non-intrusive, accurate, reliable, non overload, no searching etc. We're not for everyone but we're still for many.

    I do agree that placing the opinion on the front page was unacceptable. It should not have run there and it was a surprise to me. I about fell out of my chair when I saw it.

    Biased media? Sure there is biased media. Just as there is a lot of unbiased media. Take your pick. I love The Economist. I think it is the best publication of it's kind in print or online there is. Wall Street Journal is slanted but I still read it because the stuff that they don't spin they do wonderfully. Same with NYT. Etc etc.

    Look, honestly, print is a good thing and it is really a requirement for a democracy to survive - at least until there is an on-line model that is viable for reporting the news. I personally suspect there may never be one - at least on a local or even regional basis. You just can't get to scale.

    My old editor Logan tells this story: In a city council meeting we used to cover, one council person and another were discussing an issue and one said to the other, "Well lets just go ahead and vote to approve it, no one will know." The other guy responded (pointing to Logan who was standing behind the speaker) "He will." A bit dramatic I know but you know what? That goes away completely or to a high degree if print goes away. Not good. - Ray

  7. report print email
    Just curious....
    July 25, 2012 | 03:58 PM

    Ray, I'm just curious: Do you subscribe to paper versions of the Economist, WSJ, and NY Times? Or do you read any of them online?

    I actually see internet versions as less labor intensive. The sites I like are on my links bar, and once there, I can click on the headlines that interest me. No offense, but that way I'm able to skip things like the police blotter, editorial opinions I don't care anything about, articles about medical offices new to the area that just "happen" to be across the page from a paid advertisement of the same, etc.

    It's kind of like the difference between using an on-screen channel guide on my TV as opposed to the old method of flipping through the channels one by one. And the fact that I can skip past commercials (or ignore banner ads) just makes it that much better!

  8. report print email
    Just Curious re The Economist
    July 25, 2012 | 06:12 PM

    Greg, I subscribe to The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Editor & Publisher and Time - all of which have online editions - and I never ever go to their online sites. I find the sites distracting, noisy, and very unfullfilling.
    That said, however, I do go to two sites - Bloomberg and CNN - every day and I also follow one technology Tweeter because the content in all three is simple, almost always what I am interersted in, and there are no other distractions to speak of on those sites (smart phone versions).

  9. report print email
    Another just curious
    July 25, 2012 | 06:29 PM

    Almost forgot the main reason I stick to print - time. Time I value more than almost anything. That is why I watch zero tv. I. Found that online I inevitably burned thru double or triple the time I had intended - even after I killed my Facebook. I don't want to look back and realize I spent / burned thru a large chunk of my life that way - online. It is the great time thief.

    Appen again
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