News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It is terrible not to be a profit in your own place and time

As Todd Epp pointed out, recent earnings reports of newspapers show a decline in revenues and this news has sent the right-wing-ding-a-lings into spasms of orgasmic glee. They somehow think their perpetual petulance and excursions into scurrility (I speak and read Old English, so I really do the alliteration thing well) are driving newspapers and what they regard as other main stream media out of the market. Todd also points out that visits to newspaper web sites have increased.

The hits taken by print journals are not a matter of the content of blogs, but of the changing technology and forms of media. We have been there before. I was working for newspapers when television was regarded as a threat that would close newspapers throughout the land. They had some tough years, and many of them turned to concentrating on intensifying their coverage and reporting, and the result was surprising. People went to television for entertainment. They went to newspapers for news, stories that went beyond the 30-second gloss. And as a result, their advertising revenues increased. They f0und that when people wanted well-developed, substantiated stories, they turned to the print.

Our editors made us work all the harder on our stories to serve this preference. So, people who were careful consumers also wanted advertising that gave them comparative information, and the print ads flourished. Frankly, many people in the news business were surprised when the print media started making money again.

The newspaper industry is undergoing a shaking out. Many newspapers in places like South Dakota are pathetic examples of journalism. Their concept of making money is to see how cheaply they can fill the news hole. Just as we newswriters had to change our writing habits to meet the challenge of television, they may have to find ways to compete effectively with the web. What newspapers did in the early television-print competitions was to use television as the teaser so that people would go out and get a newspaper to get the complete story.

Just at a time when newspapers are underpaying talent and cutting back on coverage efforts, they should be seeing how they can raise the journalistic ante. Some may fail. And there may be some breakthroughs in technology that make the cyberword as portable and thorough as the printed word.

But if newspapers are losing readers and money, it's their own damned fault for foolishly trying to compete with the semi-literacy of blogs. There is a literate and information-hungry public out there that wants and needs carefully checked facts presented through graceful and readable writing.

Don't write newspapers off until the vast majority in the audience have lost the ability to read and write. For those who want to control minds rather than inform them, that is the goal.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States