‘life and prosperity, death and doom…’

Perhaps I should begin this post with the opening words of today's first reading in the Catholic lectionary:

Moses said to the people:
"Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom…"
        — Deuteronomy 30:15

Since this last post on the subject ("TNR on the 'end' of newspapers") — when I mentioned the bankruptcies of the Philadelphia papers and alluded to that of the Journal Register Co. — the flood of bad news in my industry has continued unabated this week. For instance:

That's just a sampling.

But that's not the big story, is it? The big story is that what's killing the newspapers is the dying economy — no economic activity, no advertising, no newspapers.

As President Obama gamely tried to buck up the country Tuesday night, the picture looked grimmer and grimmer for the whole economy. Of all that I've read this week about bailouts, layoffs, losses, cutbacks and so forth this week, nothing made as big an impression on me as a piece in the WSJ yesterday about several new economic indicators.

The story began with Ben Bernanke telling us that we could start to snap out of this by 2010 — if EVERYTHING goes right from here on. It continued:

The confidence of U.S. consumers tumbled in February to its lowest level in more than 41 years, partly because people are increasingly discouraged about job prospects. Two fresh measurements suggest home-price declines are accelerating. New Fed data showed rising bank-loan delinquencies. And companies from software giant Microsoft Corp. to retailers Office Depot Inc. and Macy's Inc. reported a worsening profit outlook.

That worst-in-41-years was actually the worst ever, since consumers' pulses were first taken this way in 1967. Additionally:

The jobless rate has already risen to 7.6%, and fresh data indicate that Americans are pessimistic that the outlook will improve any time soon. The Conference Board's consumer-confidence index fell to 25 in February, its lowest level since monthly data were first collected in 1967, and 48% of people surveyed said jobs were hard to get, the largest percentage since February 1992. Some 47% said they expected jobs to decrease in the months ahead, the highest percentage since December 1973.

Almost a quarter of respondents said they expected their incomes to decrease over the next six months, an all-time high.

If only a quarter expect their incomes to decrease, it makes me think three-quarters of us are fooling ourselves.

Oh, by the way, speaking of Ben Bernanke — did you see that his boyhood home in Dillon — yes, Dillon, S.C. — was foreclosed upon? It was no longer owned by the Bernanke's, but still, as omens go… The WSJ followed up that story with a slideshow of Dillon (including pics from South of the Border).

Let me add to all this my firm belief that we can't possibly turn this around until we start feeling a little more upbeat about our prospects. So enough of the gloom and doom for today; I just needed to get that out of my system.

Anybody have any happy news to share?

For me, I'll return to today's readings, where the responsorial psalm promises this to one who hopes in the Lord:

He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.

Amen to that.

37 thoughts on “‘life and prosperity, death and doom…’

  1. Lee Muller

    What poetic justice it would be for the left-wing media who put Nobody Obama into power, to be financially ruined by Obama’s socialist destruction of our economy.

  2. blue bunny

    this blog and the online edition of The State are testimony that the print media is yesterday’s medium and is going the way of buggy whips and livery stables. The media companies need to quit bemoaning the fact that they need to retool to survive.
    its called competition, and they better get used to it.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Anybody have anything relevant to say?

    I mean, I took the time to share some actual facts, and figures, and observations, things that could potentially be grist for meaningful conversation. Does anyone value that at all, in any way? I mean, value it enough to engage the subject?

    Just asking, as I wonder yet again why I try. Perhaps I should have quoted from Ecclesiastes instead.

  4. Lee Muller

    The SF Chronicle and Washington Post are deceitful, anti-American rags. Good riddance to them.
    They refused to serve the needs of patriotic, hard working Americans. They chose to promote the narrow-minded progressive bigotry and hedonism of the city. Those creeps don’t even support the paper with ads.

  5. Lee Muller

    The Democrats and Obama, with the press as their megaphone, have run a campaign of fear and lies about the economy. Now consumer confidence is low and Big Media is losing money. What made them think they could talk up a recession and just be observers of other people in misery?
    When unemployment was 4.5% in June, the Democrat media was groaning about how bad the economy was, how bad Bush was. With employment and the economy much better than it was under Democrat Jimmy Carter, they lie about “the worst economy since the Depression”. They avoid mentioning the years under Clinton and Carter when the economy was worse than it is now.

  6. bill

    The ingredients are malt, sugar, yeast and rain water. You can buy the malt from any big supermarket, if they don’t have it they will order it for you. The brand names for the malt and yeast I always used was Blue Ribbon, and Red Top. The malt is a liquid and comes in a can, the yeast comes in cakes.
    To every can of malt you will add 5 gallons of warm water, dissolve 5 pounds of sugar and add 1 cake of yeast. Mix all this together in a barrel made of plastic, stainless steel, or copper, under no circumstances use aluminum. Keep it covered with cheese cloth to keep the bugs out. Keep it in a warm place till it ferments. Then you can cook it off in your still and you have the smoothest whiskey you have ever tasted.
    After you run off the whiskey, it is clear like water. You can color it by taking a piece of dry fruit wood (or maple), burn the fruit wood over a flame till it is blackened real good, then drop the burned fruit-wood in your clear whiskey. In a few days the whiskey will be the color of store bought whiskey.
    I hope you find this recipe to be to your satisfaction.

  7. Greg Flowers

    There are two problems: 1) A lack of money for advertising (and a lack of money to purchase the products being advertised; and 2) A reluctance to advertise because of declining readership, caused by a change in delivery media i.e. more people are getting their news online but the online advertising market for this sector is not yet well developed (and may never be). These are not original thoughts but a weak economy combined with a technology shift is delivering a body blow to the newspaper industry. As newspapers become thinner, there becomes less reason to read them and as less people read them they become thinner. Except for, perhaps, small weeklys and a few nationals (e.g. Washington Post, NYT, WSJ) the future really seems to be online. The trick is how to do this profitably. I really do not think the difficulties of print newspapers has much, if anything, to do with editorial policy. I value the NYT even though I almost always disagree with its editorial policies. The WSJ is not immune to the tough financial times and its editorial policy has remained consistently conservative. The market will shake itself out but I think that the print newspaper is, I think, largely on its way out in its present form.

  8. Weldon VII

    OK, Brad. I’ll engage, as best I can.
    You say, “The big story is that what’s killing the newspapers is the dying economy — no economic activity, no advertising, no newspapers.”
    Seems to me the economy only exacerbates what’s killing the newspapers: their decision years ago to give their news product away on the Internet. Web revenues from advertising never closed the gap from lost subscriptions and print advertising revenue, so every economic bump sends another set of newspapers into oblivion.
    Now, most paper’s newsprint products are as much behind their own Web product as they are the TV-radio news cycle and life on the blog, so newspapers are choked not only by their competition, but by their own hands.
    I think you exemplified the problem the other day when you complained of the spin cycle and spoke of your preference for the WSJ and NYT. That puts you eternally behind the spin cycle, when the spin cycle is the thing that’s making newsprint harder and harder to sell.
    Yeah, I know, that TV-radio-Blackberry cycle out there doesn’t have the depth a newspaper can, but USA Today put the knife in depth years ago, and if your paper doesn’t have the score of last night’s game in it, much less the coach’s reaction at his news conference this morning, or likewise for the House passage of $410 worth of bloated pork yesterday, including $180,000 for the study of swine stench (no kidding), how do you expect to compete in any economy?

  9. martin

    I think it probably was a mistake to offer yourself up for free on the web. That made the paper readers feel like fools for spending the money.
    Since consistency is the hobgoblin of a little mind, however, I think you should include freeby web advertising for everyone who advertises in print, at least for a trial period. You know, buy this much print advertising and we’ll give you this much free on the web. The business would get the opportunity to see if web advertising works and you would still benefit from the print. (It’s not ALL the economy, there has never been a large amount of web advertising on the papers I read online.)
    Do you already do this, give ’em a freeby, I mean? What would it hurt?

  10. bud

    I remember when we had the Columbia Record. It disappeared about 30 years ago. Even then it was apparent that electronic sources of information were eating away at the print media business. The recession is less of a factor than TV, especially cable; the internet; and even radio (XM for example). These sources of information are faster, more diverse and more detailed than the morning paper. You can check out the movie and TV schedules much easier on line than in the paper.
    And frankly the newspaper content has deteriorated dramatically over the last few years. It’s almost embarassing to read the front page anymore; it’s just nothing but pure fluff. There just isn’t any real reason, other than habit, to read the print version of the paper anymore. Yeah the recession has taken it’s toll on newspapers but other factors are much more important.

  11. Brad Warthen

    Thanks, Greg and Weldon. Greg is completely right about the irrelevance of political “bias,” etc. The NYT and WSJ are two wonderful newspapers that have very different political philosophies. And you won’t find better daily journalism anywhere than in their pages. But they’re in the same boat with the rest of us.
    And Weldon’s right that while the economy is the immediate crisis causing these bankruptcies and such, the industry was in deep trouble before. Indeed, the current economic mess is just starting to hit us. The big cutbacks thus far in my department — I’ve lost 55 percent of my tiny staff here in editorial — all came BEFORE September. And they resulted from the megatrends Weldon refers to, exacerbated by the recession that was already happening, though not yet officially called.
    People think the Internet is killing newspapers, and they are both right at wrong. The thing is, we are perfectly happy to deliver our product to you via the Internet. In fact, if EVERYBODY started taking it that way tomorrow, we’d eliminate our huge fixed cost of newsprint and ink and running those huge presses — plus delivery trucks and every cost associated with getting the dead-tree version to your house.
    But we’d still have a problem — we can’t make enough money doing that to keep doing what we do. As Weldon says, we decided long ago to give you the online version for free, and no paper that I know of has figured out how to take that gift back and make it work. Of course, readers paying to read our stuff has never been our major source of revenue. It’s always been advertising. And yeah, we can sell ads online, as long as anyone’s buying. Trouble is, the online advertising market won’t bear the rates that we’ve always been able to charge for print — and those print ads are what pay for the reporters, photographers, editors and so forth who go out and get the news and present it to you.
    Add all that up, and the math is brutal, whatever we try to do. And the rapidly slowing economy is like an anvil on the camel’s back.

  12. Brad Warthen

    … and thanks to bud and martin, who engaged the topic while I was typing my above comment.
    Actually, bud, the Record folded before the Internet was affecting us. It folded because interest in afternoon newspapers went away — a great shame, I’ve always thought. Afternoon newspapers had an immediacy, an energy, a connectedness that you just can’t get in any other form of print. Very fast, very dynamic. Your city council would do something in the morning, and you could pick up a paper from a rack at lunchtime and read about it. And then the second edition that you got at home would have more stuff that had happened that very day.
    The first 10 years of my life was spent at an afternoon newspaper, and as you can probably tell, I miss them. If there were any justice in the world, if one of the two kinds of papers had to go away and one survive, I wish it had been the p.m. papers that stayed. It still sort of baffles me that consumers lost interest in them the way they did.
    Now, of course, we’re facing a deeper crisis. This one is not caused by lack of reader interest. In fact, I keep reading that newspaper readership is as high as ever, even among the young (whom people tend to think of as the post-newspaper generation) — on the Web. But that creates a different problem for the business model.

  13. bud

    Brad, I was mostly referring to TV and radio, not the internet, as factors in the demise of the afternoon paper.
    We used to get the Columbia Record at my dad’s store in the afternoon. He could glance at the paper without getting overly distracted from the work at hand. As a kid I recall it had the best comic section. The sports page had information about late games that could not be reported in the morning paper. It was a great source of information in it’s day but it was obsolete by the 60s.

  14. Greg Flowers

    Eventually, media will have to stop internet versions if advertising revenue cannot be brought in line. It is not like a fellow I knew once asserted (in all seriousness) “maybe we do lose money on every transaction but we’ll make up for it in volume.” Eventually, the market will sort all of this but it seems that it will not support (or require) the size of entity that we have become used to.

  15. Lee Muller

    Brad, try this little experiment:
    Take the side of the people for a change.
    Stop covering up for mismanagement by the city, county, state and federal politicians.
    Report on public hearings BEFORE they occur, so working taxpayers can show up to give some balance to the parasites and their lobbyists.
    Investigate state legislators who become personally wealthy from their measly elected jobs, BEFORE the FBI takes them out in handcuffs and shocks you that these fine citizens will no longer be hobnobbing with you at Rotary.

  16. David

    Once, just once, find a tax increase or existing tax you disagree with and come out with principled and emphatic editorial opposition to it. Just ONCE, come out with an emphatic and passionate editorial that supports personal property rights over some bogus “state interest” that strips property rights away from individuals.
    Take a staunchly conservative position on some issue and don’t apologize, pule or pussyfoot about it.
    Brad, you say “interest” in some of your product just mysteriously “went away.”
    Believe me – given your left leaning content – this evaporation of “interest” isn’t the mystery to some of us that it apparently is to you.

  17. Greg Flowers

    I personally disagree with many (perhaps most) of the positions of the editorial board but have never heard of anyone cancelling their subscription or making an advertising decision based on editorial disagreements (there may be some but not many. Why participate in a blog run under the auspicis of an organization you so loathe? Why not discuss? Why only berate and insult? No, such positions as viewing taxation as a legitimate behavior modifier offend me (though I know its been done for a long time) but the logical options seem to be to discus the issues or not expose yourself to opinions you disagree with.

  18. David

    Greg, to the extent that you “know” me, you now know someone who has stopped subscribing to The State because I disagree with both specific opinions and the general ideological slant held and promoted by the editorial board. I not only don’t subscribe, I don’t buy the paper across the counter either. Down through the years I have watched as the editors have used the editorial page not only to agitate against school choice, but to use the editorial page to belittle the motives of good people on the other side of the issue, and to resort to character denigration and namecalling against their opposition.
    They have been pretty consistently in favor of larger and more powerful government, even when our brand of it in South Carolina has a track record of inefficiency and heavy-handedness. They have gone farther, fully supporting and advocating the immoral use of tax policy to shape public behaviour, but arrogantly doing so unevenly – favoring for instance penalizing smokers, but not necessarily for other risky but less villified
    They generally do not and have not supported the rights of property owners.
    I could continue, but will not. The bottom line is that their conduct has been biased, unfair and uneven. It has gone way beyond the simple presentation of opinions I disagree with. They have wrongly used the power of the press to attempt to run countering opinions into the ditch.
    I am embittered about it. And I do not believe I’m alone. The State is a business the operates in one of the most conservative markets in the
    US. Do you think that the way it has currently configured itself makes it a good fit for it’s audience? I don’t.
    Just sayin.
    Brad acknowledges that The State cannot generate the revenues necessary to stay in business, but can’t quite put his finger on why.
    Now really…is it all that difficult? Really?

  19. beetrave

    “And frankly the newspaper content has deteriorated dramatically over the last few years. It’s almost embarassing to read the front page anymore; it’s just nothing but pure fluff.”
    I wonder: can we blame some of these problems on consolidation and “economies of scale”? So much of local paper has turned into flavor-free, cut-&-paste journalism that involves little or no original reporting. This trend was well underway 10-15 years ago. I remember that the small town where I went to college had a newspaper that was bought out by Gannett (we called it PropaGannett). As soon as the sale went through, much of the non-sports local reporting went out the window, leaving only the wire service stories that you could get anywhere for free.
    The State’s recent coverage of the real estate downturn is a classic example of this kind of reporting. Usually they just quote some stats on sales, take a quote from a real estate agent, and file the story. The result: totally uninformative “news” that no one needs.
    That said, I love newspapers and would never want to trade my morning paper for a laptop screen.

  20. Lee Muller

    I know a lot of educated South Carolinians, PhDs, MDs, attorneys, who despise tone of The State newspaper.
    One of them said to me today, “All they would have to do is cover the news of the state and city, so people who are concerned could participate and maybe bring some sanity to the governments. Instead, they report bits and pieces, after it’s a done deal. But they have all sorts of space and reporters allocated to stories about the KKK, the flag, some racial incident 60 years ago, or how they hate the Hunley, or The Citadel.”
    The newspapers don’t see themselves as serving the people. They see themselves as part of the ruling elite, the messenger boys to sway public opinion. And their former readers see them the same way.

  21. Rich

    I don’t agree that your editorial policy is the reason that readership has declined. Conservative papers have experienced similar declensions and, while the State paper is by no means liberal, neither is it a conservative parrot. Sometimes you lean to the right, and sometimes to the left.
    I think you have to look at how people actually use the paper. I suggested this in an earlier post when I talked about my Sunday morning ritual reading the State. For that matter, I do essentially the same every day. I bring breakfast and coffee to school and sit in my office at school and enjoy quiet time with a newspaper, not a computer.
    The State paper should once again be the State newspaper, strongly emphasizing stories about our state and its people. Where and when you do this, you are at your very best. Add to that the sports and the coupons, and you are in the house!
    Again, the question should be: how do people actually use the State paper. Work from that to an effective business plan.

  22. David

    Just to be clear, the problem I have with this newspaper is not so much that my opinions differ from those held and promoted by the editors. It is that the the abuse of the power to tax is a manifestation of tyranny, and for that reason it is a moral issue. The abuse of the power of the pen as it has been practiced by the editors is immoral.
    The State does not reflect the morals and the values that I believe in and attempt to live by.
    There are many good people that I respect who hold opinions that differ from my own. Sadly, I can’t say that about my hometown newspaper.

  23. Brad Warthen

    I suppose I should ignore David — what do you say to a guy who wants you to cite ONE time that you opposed a tax, when he didn’t notice it all the times you did it before? It’s ridiculous. He is going to have a certain notion in his head of who we are and what we say, and it will be unaffected by who we actually are and what we actually say.
    But I will react to that last one, with the silly business about this private enterprise, the newspaper, exercising “tyranny.”
    You’re joking, right?
    I’ve got an idea for you, David — go out and start your own paper. You have just as much power and right to do that as the Gonzales brothers did when they started that one. Good luck, though, coming up with the initial capital, and then making money after you do.
    Because that’s the problem — the money’s just not there to be made these days, not through the business model that has brought us the daily newspaper.
    It has about as much to do with our editorial positions — much less your misperceptions of our editorial positions — as it does with the fact that our state flag is blue. No cause-and-effect relationship whatsoever.
    You see, we heard from people like you when we were making money hand over fist. We’ll hear from people like you on the day that the last newspaper in history is published. It goes with the territory.
    It actually would be wonderful to think that SOMETHING I could do would turn newspapers around. Of course, I would never consider having a different editorial opinion from what I do in order to make money. I do what I do because I believe in the things I write and say, and newspapers give me an opportunity to do so. I’d have no interest in doing it otherwise.
    But it would be nice if there were any indication whatsoever that by doing my job BETTER, it would make a difference. That would be right up my alley, because there’s never been a day in my career that I wasn’t trying to do my job better than I had ever done it before. That’s the reason I blog on top of the fact that I have to do more with less in my REAL job of putting out the paper. The blog gives me a chance to experiment, to do new things, to provide more to readers at a time when we have less space and fewer resources for the print version. It enables me to move forward, rather than back.
    But none of my efforts solve the financial problem of the advertising underpinnings of newspapers fading away, particularly in this economic crisis. And I have seen no indication that anything any other journalist has managed to do in our industry has affected that math, either.
    Which is just frustrating beyond words, I don’t mind telling all of you. We just have to keep doing our jobs as well as we can as long as we can, and watch the financial disaster going on around us…

  24. Greg Flowers

    I will have to admit that there have been times that the State’s editorial positions have sent me into paroxyms rage, but they are entitled to their opinion, as am I. When I really thought they overstepped, and I have not seen this in a few years, is when they would take a position and then sanctimoniously intone “as all people of good will agree”. I have certitude about a number of issues but attempt not to impune the motives of my opponents. But, as I say I have not seen that in a while.

  25. Greg Flowers

    I absolutely agree that editorial policy and the current predicament have little to do with one another. Its more akin to the railroad and the airplane. Railroads provided the best way for passengers to travel in the US for a long time, then planes became not only faster and affordable. A few passenger trains remain as a few newspapers remain but, sadly perhaps, both instances are examples of the times changing.

  26. Greg Flowers

    Why won’t advetisers pay a “living wage” for internet newspaper advertising? Is it just a matter of getting used to a new technology?

  27. Lee Muller

    Mr. Warthen,
    You are on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of politics, and the wrong side of technology.
    Technology is not what is killing the profits of newspapers. It is loss of higher-income readers because they don’t trust you to bring them all the news in a timely manner, and to be truthful and objective.
    As long as there was an oligopoly controlling the news business, and 95% of them were pushing the same agenda, you could get away with cheating your customers.
    Now, with the ability for anyone to research the news from multiple sources, they quickly know more about the issues they the editors and reporters, or at least enough to know they are being lied to by the established media.

  28. Rich

    Gee, I did not know that Brad was “on the wrong side of history.” Didn’t we just have two elections (06 and 08) that would suggest that the Republicans and conservatives in general would be the ones who are out of step, out of ideas, and out of power?

  29. Lee Muller

    Rich, you are on the wrong side of history, as are all socialists and other retrograde barbarians.
    You had better be looking of a second job.
    Your teacher retirement fund isn’t funded.

  30. Brad Warthen

    Once again, Lee is misinformed. Higher-income, better-educated folks are still loyal newspaper readers.
    For that matter, readership isn’t the problem any way you slice it. It’s that the advertising business model doesn’t work the way it did.
    Greg, the problem is that the market won’t bear ad rates on the Internet that correspond to print ad revenues. That’s because on the Internet, you’re competing with people who have next to no overhead. They aren’t trying to provide a newsroom and cover a community, so their presence on the Web suppresses prevailing rates to far below what we need to do what we do.

  31. Lee Muller

    Brad, you don’t have ENOUGH readers of any kind. Why? Because you spit in the face of the intelligent, hard working, private sector citizens, with constant cry baby feature articles about how the losers, the lazy, the illiterates are poor victims of the high achievers.
    You don’t provide timely and complete news coverage of the state and local affairs.
    You prefer to pontificate on world and national events. That is not your beat.
    Your paper uses the devious vocabulary of big government, always painting an erroneous picture of how government is cutting back, which is a big lie.

  32. Lee Muller

    Brad, the only time I am misinformed is when I read a newspaper like The State, which seeks to misinform.

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