Saturday, June 07, 2008

Anxiety filled weekend

UPDATED Sunday morning
This weekend, while tens of thousands of South Floridians are out enjoying the beautiful weather, there’s a group of people who are slowly coming to grips with the depressing reality that by this time next week they might be unemployed.

Rumors of impending layoffs at the Miami Herald have been circulating for weeks producing much the same effect on the psyche of those who work there as an approaching category 5 storm in the Caribbean; anxiety, fear, apprehension and in some cases panic.

Those in the know say that the word of firings could come as early as the first part of the week.

Chuck Strouse of Miami New Times wrote yesterday that McClatchy wants a reduction of 10 to 15% of the Herald’s workforce. How many newsroom employees will be affected remains to be seen.

My sources tell me that McClatchy is seeking a 10 to 15% reduction at all of their papers.

As I’ve written before, this is the stark reality for the foreseeable future of newspapers.

Shrinking revenues and declining circulation bases are just two of the reasons for newspapers’ woes.

How long will the Herald, and newspapers in general, be able to survive under these conditions? Experts disagree.

Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer gives all print media 10 years.

Russ Stanton, editor of the LA Times is more optimistic and says the print edition of his paper will be around for another 35 years.

As far as the Herald’s concerned, I’m no expert, but with their circulation declining in the range of 10% every six months, I’d be very surprised if the print edition will still be viable in five years.

Other papers are losing circulation but not nearly as drastic as those numbers. Yet.

Who’s to blame for the predicament that newspapers are in?

The Internet is one reason. It’s just quicker and more practical to get news online these days.

And news consumers' needs and tastes have changed. However, except for updated graphics and snappier layouts, the content newspapers offer today is essentially the same as it was almost 45 years ago when this copy of the Herald was printed.
The Internet is also partly responsible for newspapers’ loss of advertising revenue.

Want to place a classified ad in the paper? It’ll cost you. Want to place an ad on a site like Craigslist? No problem and no charge!

Veteran Miami journalist Michael Putney tried to wrap his brain around the problem this week in his Herald column.

Michael’s main point was that we can’t afford to lose newspapers; we need newspapers to keep an eye on politicians and report on government waste and misdeeds.

(This morning's report on waste and mismangement within Miami-Dade's Transit System is an example of what happens when the Herald gets it right.)

He also pointed out that newspapers have shot themselves in the foot by giving away content online which he says is “one reason why Herald and Sun-Sentinel circulation are down. Why pay for something you can get free?”

Excellent points to be sure, but he didn’t address why the Herald in particular is losing subscribers in numbers far higher than other newspapers. I have my own thoughts on this that I’ll share at another time.

In an e-mail to me Michael expanded a bit on some of his points:

“Hey [Bill]- Yes, you're right that newspapers have largely done themselves in by failing to understand the zeitgeist of the digital revolution. They made so much money for so long doing it the same way they just couldn't shake themselves out of their old habits. Now, the marketplace and the Internet have done it for them. Okay, dawg, that's it. MP"

So perhaps with the news that’s sure to come next week, many at the Herald will finally begin to "shake themselves out of their old habits."

But for others, sadly, it’s going to be too late.

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