Time Monger 

Print isn't the only media in trouble

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There are plenty of people out there who would love to see this newspaper and all other newspapers—especially this newspaper—go away. Die. Feed the tulips. Register for the worm convention. Bid adieu. Snuff the candle. Get toe tagged. Or, in the jargon of Earth First newspaper people, [Go] to Spare the Forests.

Like Mark Twain, a firm number of us in the newspaper business continue to protest our predicted demise with the optimistic notion that "the reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated." For the most part, that's been true, since, while a painful number of newspapers have closed shop, a far greater number still apply ink to paper daily, weekly or monthly. The more true story—also painful—is that the newspaper industry as a whole has lost thousands of jobs in the past decade—most painful of all being that many of those jobs lost were reporting and editing positions.

If you believe newspaper comment boards, you already know the reason for the demise of the newspaper industry: Newspapers are too liberal.

Yeah, uh-huh, that's it.

But that's not it at all, lest we also believe that the Deseret News laid off about half of its editing positions because readers were put off by the Deseret News' liberal viewpoints. It is not whether a newspaper is liberal or conservative that determines its fate—it is economics, nothing more.

There are basic reasons the newspaper industry has suffered this past decade. The funding cash cow and profit center for newspapers—the classified section—moved to the Internet, where independent companies like Monster and AutoTrader devoured whole industry categories, while Craiglist and KSL.com ate up the service categories (lawnmowers, old furniture, etc). That revenue transfer to online caused newspapers to begin shaving payroll. Soon, those very newspapers starting writing their own obituaries in a print reverb that echoed for a decade—a fair number of intelligent people wanted them to die and shut up. A loss of trust by both readers and advertisers followed: Why invest time or money in a Yugo?

Next came mobile devices. It's cliché for newspaper to claim that they cannot replace the dollars they formerly gathered in print with the dimes they now gather from their individual websites. Worse is chasing pennies on mobile devices, where only one or two small ads are displayed at any given time.

The double doozy regarding mobile devices is they eat so much of our time. All of us have only a fixed amount of attention we can give to anything in a day. Our mobile devices are to us what a binky is to Maggie Simpson. During any given day, most of us spend more time on social media on our mobile phones than we formerly did reading the daily newspaper. People just run out of time as their time priorities have shifted; do you see people doing crossword puzzles any longer as they ride Trax into the city, for instance?

On the bright side, such reliance on our mobile devices benefits a separate industry: Sex counselors report an uptick of couples attempting to reconcile their personal attention deficits with their relationships. Today's modern person, sadly, tracks and holds their mobile device more tightly than their significant other, and worse—not even counting taking and texting amateur porn images (the only legitimate reason for having a camera on a phone in the first place, say some)—such persons are even known to descend into Googling while locked in lust's embrace. Jeezus, Apple and Android—did you know it would come to this? Did you know you might one day replace the TV remote as the handheld device most often cited in divorce settlements—even more than you know what?

And the newspaper industry thinks it has problems?

Yeah, it does, or some of them do. In a column published in the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association (SNPA) on Oct. 20, 2015, industry analyst Gordon Borrell writes, "I think that if you own a major daily newspaper above 50,000 circulation, you're in trouble. You're in really big trouble." Well, if that doesn't buttress the confidence of potential buyers about the viability of The Salt Lake Tribune, nothing will—and remember, that statement is inclusive of newspapers getting full shares of their revenue. The Salt Lake Tribune has a disadvantageous revenue-share Joint Operating Agreement with the Deseret News.

Borrell also predicts that small dailies will be OK, that larger newspapers will begin migrating to weekly publication, and that, within the next two years, no dailies will be printing seven days a week. What does that mean to you? It means mostly that if you can't wait for the Monday paper, you're SOL.

What does it mean for us? Not much, and (except for having the imaginative Gordon Monson being available on fewer days) we'd welcome a world with fewer Salt Lake Tribunes lying around. What does it mean for potential buyers of The Salt Lake Tribune? This—801-575-7003. Give me a call, and I'll help you spend that money wisely.

In case any one is wondering, the news from Borrell is worse for other media. The Yellow Pages will disappear. After the next election cycle, broadcast media will begin its own death spiral. Half of all radio stations will disappear by 2025. On the bright side for print, over 32 percent of 3,000 businesses surveyed cited print newspaper advertising as being their most effective means to attract new business, plus 17 percent cited other print media (print total 49 percent. YAY!). Radio came in at 16 percent, TV ads at 11 percent.

Dead last at effectiveness: mobile campaigns at 4 percent. Maybe that number would increase if newspapers could sell pre-roll and post-roll ads on videos of their newsroom romps. Here's hoping.

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