Newspaper death throes

Posted on May 5, 2020
Filed Under Commentary, Economic & Political Philosophy | Leave a Comment

May 5, 2020

We are seeing the end of newspapers as my generation knew them. Covid-19 is the last spike in the heart of many print versions. Stores aren’t open. Consumers are not out shopping. Such advertisers as there are are buying time and space on other media, especially on the World Wide Web. Newspapers are dying, reducing publishing frequency and dramatically reducing in size.

Advertising made up 80% of revenue for most of my newspaper career. Circulation made up 20%

Both of those sources have been under attack since the 1970s. By that time, retail chains were becoming national. They could print one advertising supplement, aka flyer, and distribute it in many markets instead of paying dozens of newspapers to recreate it for their one publication.

At first they paid roughly the cost of a half page ad in the paper to have entire, full-colour sections they provided included. 

Next, Canada Post naturally wanted advertising flyers as clients in their system rather than tagging along with papers. Their problem was that community newspapers had extremely favourable second class postal rates granted during a time when governments had no easy way to get messages out to scattered Canadians.

Canada Post solved that problem by cutting prices well below their cost of delivery. They could fend off competition from papers and other competitors by including rural distribution as a loss leader.

Eventually, a federal commission established Canada Post was cheating which they were but had been driven to it and ordered it out of the business.

That simply drove advertisers with flyers to private distributors which, by that time, were large newspaper or printing chains.

The retail chains that could succeed without local papers also crippled local, independent retailers who could not match the chain economies.

The urbanization of industry, commerce and services favoured some markets and harmed others. Moncton, for example, does well at the expense of NB’s East Coast and  North Shore.

The internet disrupted various forms of communication. Books became available to read or listen to and share on computers which became smaller and more portable.

Movies moved from theatres to tv to computer, often pirated from the copyright owners.

Same thing with the music industry. Most music is now available on YouTube and on subscription services. Much is not paid for.

In each case, a modern new business is based on stealing and selling someone else’s work, property, and income earning ability and keeping the proceeds for yourself.

There has always been some of this. People have copied and circulated published, printed, recorded and filmed copyright material for as long as they could. Jocks even used to solicit sponsorships for teams saying, “And you will get all kinds of advertising in the paper.”

Workers wouldn’t like it if most of their pay check was deposited to someone else’s account.

News and public relations are free. Advertising is the lifeblood of the paper. People thought it was not just good but great to sell my product to their sponsors. They would actually get angry at me for not including the sponsor’s name in news reports.

Now, avoiding paying for the cost of time and overhead of actually paying the cost of finding, explaining and delivering news and commentary has provided some of the biggest, richest corporations in the world with free inventory. Just take what others produced and sell it to your own advertising clients. Note that word, “finding.” Good news organizations spend a lot finding what is news and also what isn’t.

Meanwhile we all take advantage of the daily bargain we find on Google. 

Unfortunately for all of us, it means all the news, good and bad, is disappearing like Polar ice. As social networks provide the stolen stories from newspapers, the number of reporters and the number of news pages has to shrink along with the revenue. By the time I sold the local papers, we were spread so thin, we might have only time and space for one source for an article. Less he said and then she said. More just he said.

Now we’re lucky if a story is even unique to our region. That is not the current owner, publisher’s fault.

Not only have publishing firms been looted by pirates, they are now trying to provide service while the declining client advertisers they have managed to hang onto are closed by the pandemic.

You and I both support the business plan that is killing independent news. Together we are killing the golden goose that brings us information we need to protect and monitor our lives, families, incomes, laws and freedoms.

It would help if our federal government made it law for people reproducing copyright material for revenue have to pay for that content.

The printed form of newspapers will probably disappear. Local news organizations could exist if they can be the ones being paid for their work.

Dark times. DAC


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