Last week a bunch more people left. A few went of their own volition, most were fired. Here’s a complete list. I still have a job, though there were many times when I longed for the nerve (and the financial resources) to walk away and leave the business of putting out a paper to more intrepid types.
While we were in the midst of stewing in our angst last week, a former Merc guy wrote the newspaper’s obituary on his blog. I still detect a pulse, but there’s no denying it’s getting fainter.
I recall thinking back in about 1996 that newspapers had about five years to get their act together before the Internet swallowed them whole. Well, our tail is sticking out of the whale’s mouth but most of our business is working its way through the leviathan’s digestive system. It doesn’t look good.
One forward-looking blogger has created a site called newspaperdeathwatch.com … mind you this guy doesn’t work in print anymore so he can marvel at watching the Titanic sink beneath the icy waves from his online lifeboat. One page at his site explains something that I knew 10 years ago: newspapers were charging higher and higher ad and subscription rates for smaller and smaller audiences, a business that was clearly unsustainable. What did they do about this? Invest billions in R&D to keep themselves relevant in the new age? If only.
What happened was newspapers kept expecting somebody to show them the way in the Internet era but failed to notice that Google and Yahoo were inventing Internet advertising. Now the technology belongs to somebody else.
All this has been hashed out in excruciating detail all over the Web, with new predictions of the newspaper industry’s demise showing up daily — tempered with forced optimism that something better is on the horizon. It’s like that “you’re going to a better place” business people feel compelled to tell the doomed on their deathbeds. The dying know it’s a lie, but it’s such bad form to correct somebody when they’re trying to cheer you up.
Here’s what I think will happen: everybody who bought newspapers in the last three or four years will go bankrupt because they bought the top of a market held aloft by the phony housing boom, and some clever operative like Warren Buffett will come in and buy them up at pennies on the dollar.
Most of us will be forced to get real jobs, like school teachers or dogcatchers.
I have this half-baked notion that I can ride this out from the inside and see how it all shakes out. People still want local news, I figure, and people still want to buy ads to promote their local businesses. Newspapers didn’t have to adapt all those years when they had markets to themselves. Now they have no choice. With our industry’s survival on the line, we’re apt to get more creative, or die trying.
There are plenty of jobs out there for writers and editors. I keep meaning to apply for them. It’s possible these days to create a blog that draws enough traffic to earn a living. I keep fixing to get ready to create one.
Back when I had my first paper route in 1974 — a job I despised, mind you — one of the first things I noticed was how the ink rubs off and blackens your hands when you deliver a hundred of the damned things in an afternoon. The ink on the outside washes off, but the ink that gets under your skin when you build a paper from scratch every day for two decades never goes away.
One thing in my favor: I’ve been a Web junkie from day one, and news and the Web go together. Maybe the newspaper I build in the future won’t be on paper at all. That can’t be a bad thing, really. Think of all the trees it would save.