One reason that I asked y'all to tell me how the economy was looking in your own lives is that if you work in the news biz, it helps to check with people who are not looking at what WE are looking at every day. When I talk about the economy, I'm perfectly aware that my own perception is colored by the situation that newspapers — and TV stations, and other media — find themselves in these days.
As you know, since I've told you in the past, I've lost just over half the staff I had at the start of this decade, due to cost cutbacks. And that was just because of long-term problems in the newspaper business model, the thing that caused Knight Ridder (which used to own The State) to suddenly disappear. (The short explanation: We have no trouble making the transition to online with our content, except for one thing — online advertising won't pay for the kind of news-and-commentary staffing that print advertising traditionally has. The money to pay reporters et al. has to come from somewhere; we just haven't figured out where yet.)
But take this long-term problem we already had, and add in this monster recession, and the effect on our business is huge. Think about it: Classified advertising has always made up a huge portion of the revenue that enables us to publish newspapers. OK, now ask yourself, what are the three main categories of classified advertising? They are 1) employment; 2) auto and 3) real estate. How many people are hiring these days? How are car and home sales? Get the picture?
Of course, you don't need me to tell you this. You've probably seen one or more of the following:
- This TIME magazine cover story, currently on the shelves, headlined "How to Save Your Newspaper." (Spoiler: The author has no new, magic-beans idea; he just says we should charge for our content online.)
- The New York Times, which obviously has a lot at stake in the question, ran a front-page feature last week called "Battle Plans for Newspapers," which offered the thoughts of various deep thinkers on the subject.
- Then, you might have seen this headline in Editor & Publisher, "With Q4 Loss of $20 Million, McClatchy Vows to Cut Expenses $100 Million in '09." This should be relevant to you (it certainly is to me) because McClatchy is the company that now owns The State. (You could have read about it in The State as well, but I thought I'd also give you the third-party source.
- Then, just so you think it's not all about newspapers, check out this story from the WSJ, "Local TV Stations Face a Fuzzy Future." You've seen some of the effects of the squeeze on TV, such as when WIS recently got rid of veteran anchorman David Stanton and six others. Since then, WACH-57 has laid off several people.
Some people think news people live in an ivory tower and aren't exposed to the vicissitudes of real life. Hardly. I'm hear to tell you that we are extremely susceptible to whether our community is doing well or not. If it isn't, we're sort of like the canary in the coal mine — we feel the effects right away.
I try to set that aside and perceive truly what is being experienced out there by people who DON'T work for newspapers, which is why I enlisted y'all to give me feedback on this earlier post. I hope y'all will continue to do that. In the meantime, I wanted to make sure you knew how things are looking from where I sit. In case you wondered.