Zack McMillin with a Gangrey.com exclusive:
According to Forbes, it has been “the year the newspaper industry began to self-destruct.”
According to Editor & Publisher, “Fitch Ratings assigns an ‘outlook negative’ to the overall (newspaper) industry in its latest report.”
According to BusinessWeek, “The demise of the newspaper industry has become a favorite topic on both Wall Street and Main Street.”
And yet, I’m feeling good about newspapers right about now. Maybe it’s the soy milk ‘silk’ Egg Nogg we’re imbibing here at the lactose-free McMillin household. Maybe it’s the fumes leaking from the 80-year-old fireplace. Or perhaps it was Ben’s ‘riff from the past’ that got me feeling giddy amid all this gloomy talk.
I do not believe we are, as our publisher told the newsroom recently, “In a death spiral.” I’m loving that everyone is pronouncing us dead. When every financial guru sings the same song, that often means a correction is gonna come (see Cooke, Sam).
There was an op-ed recently in USA Today where an Emory U. professor pulled out the ol’ anecdotal my-students-don’t-read-papers argument. Which got me to thinking: How long has it been since college students could be seen lounging away their spare time with newspapers? Not when I was in school, at Vanderbilt in the early 90s, though the student paper was popular (as I’m sure student papers still are, everywhere).
I’d bet more young Americans are reading actual newspaper articles than ever before in the history of young Americans. They are going online, surfing for things that interest them, emailing stories that move or inform or entertain, developing a thirst for information and stories of all sorts. Teenagers are spending more time reading and writing than when I was growing up in redneck Memphis, that’s for damn sure.
Heck, look at what we do at Gangrey. Ten years ago, I’d never have run across Lane’s great series. I wouldn’t have emailed it to a college friend who works on Broadway but just moved to L.A., and who so happens to be the voice coach for the lead in Hairspray. And Georgia would not have been emailing me back, and shipping the links to her friends. And then I wouldn’t have been emailing around the snow-penis stories and Kelley’s how-to (my wife says thanks, by the way) and, well, you get the picture.
Even in my insular Memphis sports world, I get emails from people across the country about articles I write. Our audience is expanding. Wall Street may be freaked because ol’ Bessie, the cash cow that fed so many the last three decades, is reaching old age, but I cannot see how we are on death’s doorstep when we are in fact growing our readership.
For every dire sign financial analysts throw in our face, there is a flip side.
“Your most loyal readers are getting older.” Yeah, right. And what are they about to do? Retire. What do retired have time to do? Read the paper. And old people are just getting older (see Prine, John), which is good news. That is, unless we piss off the old people by continuing to use pullouts and rails and quoteboxes and ginormous pictures to pander to the people who wouldn’t read the newspaper if we assigned two reporters to cover them and their family and read it to them out loud ourselves.
“Young people don’t read newspapers.” Bullshit. See above. OK, maybe they don’t get the print version, but they are hungry for information. They just get it in different forms. I also don’t buy the B.S. that they have short attention spans. Um, hey, smart media types, ever heard of Harry fucking Potter? And there was this Lord of the Rings something-or-other trilogy I seem to recall. Lost, anyone? 24? The Sopranos? Wasn’t so long ago that Titanic reeled ‘em in. And say what you will about rap, it is not exactly the most accessible medium. Blogs are nothing but text, ad infinitum. The new media consumer wants to be challenged, surprised, delighted, astonished, captivated, enlightened, carried away. What the new media consumer will not take is the same old formulaic drivel.
“More advertisers like the platform TV provides.” How much are they going to like it when most viewers have DVRs and are zooming through commercials? How much are they going to like it when Congress makes cable companies sell channels a la carte? And how much are advertisers going to like radio when more and more people choose satellite radio as their medium? Newspaper ads have this great advantage — they are unavoidable, they are permanent, and they get your entire message across.
Speaking of radio, I saw this quote recently from a radio executive: “We (had) pulled away all of those marketing dollars and thrown them to Wall Street. Then Wall Street turns around, kicks us in the teeth and says, ‘Radio’s not cool.’ IT’S NOT COOL BECAUSE WE’RE NOT INVESTING IN MAKING IT COOL.”
“Online content provided by Google and Yahoo!, and classifieds from craigslist, are destroying newspapers.” True, except that newspapers are just now starting to figure out how to embrace the technologies that have disrupted our traditional business model. National online advertising is getting huge. In a few years, we’re going to figure out how to do that locally. Yahoo!, etc., do not have the local clout of 100-something-year-old newspapers.
The newspaper industry will never be the same. We all know this. And, yes, like other media enterprises, we are working through difficult, uncertain times.
Don’t know about anyone else, but I’m tired of getting kicked in the teeth. I say it’s time to stop being glum and, like Ben’s riff, become loud and proud about what we do.
Time to start (or keep) kicking ass, and prove Wall Street has got it wrong this time.