Saturday, December 10, 2011

The future of newspapers

I used to be the "managing editor" of a community newspaper that was owned by Liberty Group Publishing. I left that paper after 20 years and started a monthly publication of my own (with my wife as partner).

After three years, we shut it down; despite having lots of readership, we couldn't get advertisers to commit to it, so I went to work for a big box store.

Last year, I went back to work part-time for that community newspaper as a reporter. My main job, the one I really like a lot, is for the big box store that specializes in lumber, building materials, hardware, tools and home-improvement merchandise. Nevertheless, I like writing and seeing my work published, so I like working part-time for the newspaper.

The paper was taken over by GateHouse Media after I left. I try to keep track of the financial news about GateHouse Media. Here are some of the recent stories about it. Read them and see what you think.
Bulletin parent reorganizing for Project Apple

Newspaper attempting to sell building to help parent company out of debt

GateHouse Media unveils new organizational structure

GateHouse Media lays off reporters

GateHouse moving ahead with retooling

Everyone knows newspapers are hurting. We may be seeing the end of that form of mass communication. It has happened before. Radio used to be a great medium for disseminating news. It isn't any longer. TV took over.

Now the Internet is taking over the news business. Some newspapers are trying to find a digital niche; some are successful. If you read those links above, you'll see that GateHouse is making a valiant effort. They are laying off reporters and "reorganizing" by starting up new divisions and hiring more managers. That seems backwards to me, but I'm just a simple, lowly reporter.

As a simple, lowly reporter, I work for a county seat daily in a small city of 20,000 and in a county of 40,000. Our full-time reporting staff consists of a reporter who covers cops and courts and county government, and a couple of the small communities in the county. That's it. That's the full-time staff. I fill in around the edges, covering city council, school board, planning and zoning commission, the hospital board, and a few other duties to fill out my 20-hour workweek. This seems to me to be not enough reporting capacity for a county seat daily, but I think it is going to become the norm.

Here's what I think: Eventually, digital newspapers will replace the papyrus you hold in your hand while drinking your morning coffee. These digital newspapers will all be owned by one or two media companies. Maybe GateHouse will be one. These digital newspapers will be staffed by one or one and a half full-time equivalents. Maybe in the metro cities they'll have five or six reporters who get out of the office and cover news (and 15 or 16 editors who sit and look at computer screens).

The benefits of this will be:
1.) You'll get your news immediately, throughout the day with constant updates.
2.) It will likely be free.
3.) You won't have to go searching in your yard for your paper. You won't even have to open your door and bend over to pick up the paper.

Can you think of a few drawbacks for the new digital age of newspapers? I can think of a few, but there's no need to share them, because the new age is coming, no matter what I think of it.

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