Private Eye | Fuzzy Math: Print is dead'long live print | Private Eye | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Private Eye | Fuzzy Math: Print is dead'long live print 

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I took a road trip last week through the Four Corners region. So, I’m here to warn you: If you do similarly, don’t expect great phone reception around every bend and don’t expect an Internet café in Tuba City, Ariz. With my normally reliable sources of information frequently made useless, two things happened. I relaxed, for one. For another, I lost contact with a subject that had my attention before leaving town, that being it was announced that 34 Deseret News employees were being phased out. Terminated. Let loose. Dropped over the edge of Inspiration Point into the deep recess of Grand Canyon.

Despite the fact that I seldom agree with the Deseret News’ editorial or opinion pages, I’ve often thought that the Deseret News was worthy of praise. I like the newspaper. There are some very fine writers and reporters there. I don’t know many of them because they don’t water at the same holes that I do. That’s OK, because if they’re anything like the slosh buckets I know at The Salt Lake Tribune, not knowing them saves me lots of money.

Thirty-four people hitting the streets is pretty big news in the news business. Layoffs are for the auto industry, not the newspaper industry. Heck, 34 people is over half the size of this company. That’s a big number to me, and I can’t help but wonder if such an occurrence is the outcome of years of bad management or a clarion for us at City Weekly as well. After all, according to newspapers, it’s a well-known fact that newspapers are dying.

Here’s something you should know, though. In nearly the entire history of this newspaper, “real” newspapers like The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News seldom bothered to call us a newspaper. To them, we were a “weekly rag,” a “free paper,” a “third-party source,” an “entertainment guide,” an “alt weekly” and a “pain in the ass.” The last one’s mine. But the point is, we rarely got the respect or attention of those rarified experts who work at “real” newspapers. Therefore, when you read about how newspapers are dying, don’t lump us in there. We’re not dying. They are.

We knew they were dead a long time ago. As Dorothy learned from a Munchkin when her nemesis was squished by her house, As coroner, I must aver, I thoroughly examined her. And she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead. A flying house is not falling on all newspapers and not all newspapers are dead and don’t know it. Maybe both newspapers in this town will live on in some emasculated form, but in nearly every way conceivable, they’re dead compared to what they used to be. Even Dean Singleton knows that.

You all know Dean. The guy who in the middle of his positive-cash-flow heyday managed to swipe The Salt Lake Tribune out from under the McCarthey family? Dean so leveraged his once-strong cash position that he’s now reported to owe as long-term debt more than $1 billion and now has an inferior credit rating to boot. I know what debt is, but I’d hate to wake up to that everyday. Especially if my plan for debt pay-down included that I was banking on new revenues from online sources and from niche publications to pay for it.

In June of this year, Dean told the World Newspaper Congress meeting in Göteborg, Sweden, that, “In five years, or 2012, we expect 68 percent of revenue to come from core [traditional daily newspaper operations], 20 percent from online and 12 percent from niche. On operating cash flow, our goal in 2012 is 40 percent from core, 50 percent from online and 10 percent from niche.” Niche publications are the free little dog hairs being shed from large newspaper chains nationwide, such as those locally produced (by MediaOne)—In Utah This Week, the Afternoon Buzz and Fronteras. The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News share ownership in MediaOne. The Deseret News claims not to benefit financially from In—I guess because it’s too boisterous about drinking and sex—but, when you lie with dogs …

Let’s not nitpick and mention that 2012 is actually four years away, not five, but Dean’s the numbers guy, not I. He also told the Congress that, “in the future, there will be two categories of newspapers: those that survive, and those that die. By my estimate, as many as 19 of the top 50 metro newspapers in America are losing money today, and that number will continue to grow.” Considering he owns a few of the largest metro newspapers in America, I think his credibility is spot on in this instance.

I have a fair idea of the kind of money that can be generated in the niche publications Dean is banking on for his 12 percent of revenues and 10 percent of profit. And, because I do, I want to invite my friends over at The Salt Lake Tribune for yet another party. We’ll call it The Dean’s Full of Crap Party. If your future depends on surviving in a gutted newsroom (slashing editorial costs is a Dean hallmark coast-to-coast) while, across the hall, niche publications siphon energy from the mothership, then you’re going to need a drink sooner or later, anyway.

Dean didn’t say what number those percents totaled to. Will they match current revenues? Uh, uh. The Salt Lake Tribune is losing multi-millions per month in revenues in its classified sections alone. In scrapes up a few grand a week in return. Good luck with that strategy. Well, there’s always online, eh, Dean? When you wake one day to the Yahoo! Tribune, you’ll want a drink, too, Salt Lake.

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