Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A sinking feeling....

One of my favorite Saturday afternoon activities as a kid was going to downtown Miami to see a movie. (Yes, that's where all the movie theatres were.)

One movie I will never forget was 1958's (No pun intended) A Night to Remember. The movie was a very factual depiction of the sinking of the Titanic.

I sat on the edge of my seat throughout the entire film. It was a classic disaster picture.

We all know the story; The Titanic, on its maiden voyage, struck an iceberg and eventually sank and over 1500 people lost their lives. A little over 700 survived even though there were lifeboats for almost 1200 people.

Many of those on board that night believed that it was impossible for the Titanic to sink; it was unsinkable after all. The Titanic was warned of icebergs in the area it was sailing but some of those warnings never reached the captain. Once the ship struck the iceberg; leadership and rational behavior took a back seat to confusion and panic.


After reading the latest report on circulation declines at the Herald I have this suspicion that many who work at that once great newspaper must have some sense of what it must have been like to have been on board the Titanic that cold night in April of 1912.

The Herald continues to experience circulation losses in the range of 10%--more or less--every six months.

Other newspapers are experiencing losses but on a smaller scale. Only the Dallas Morning News, which has a much larger circulation, experienced a decline of something close to 11%.

By comparison the state's largest newspaper, The St. Petersburg Times lost a little over 2%.

The inescapable truth is that if the Herald continues to lose 10% of its circulation every six months then how long will it be before their circ dips below 200,000?

Comparisons between the Titanic's demise and the Herald's predicament are unavoidable.

Like the Titanic, people who run the Herald -- and other newspapers -- were warned about the dangers that lay ahead. And like the Titanic, people in the newspaper industry either didn't get the message or when they got it they chose to ignore it or at the very least, downplay the harsh reality. And when they decided to act, they acted too slowly.

And now, confusion and panic are setting in. And it appears, that no one at One Herald Plaza knows what to do next.

Case in point...people with dozens of years of newspaper experience can't even make a simple everyday editorial decision without screwing it up.


As everyone knows, the future of journalism is on the Internet.

But the Herald's website is an absolute disaster and has been for a very long time.

It's evident that no one there has the desire or expertise to change it.

Instead they are trying to make up for circulation losses with Internet page views silly features; some of them looking very much like soft porn.

All this from a newspaper that's won close to 20 Pulitzer Prizes.

No one has called for the lifeboats to be launched yet. But when they are launched it will be interesting to see who gets in and who goes down with the ship.

If the Herald is to survive they have to figure out what they've done wrong in the past and try not to make the same mistakes again.

And, as in the case of the Titanic, they might not get a second chance.

Footnote: The Herald carried an AP story about the just released circulation figures but conveniently left out out their own dismal numbers.

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