Sunday, July 05, 2009

Death of newspapers cliche is perpetuated. By me.

I try to avoid cliché in my intermittent blog writings but sometimes I can’t help myself. And that’s why today’s topic is the death of the newspaper. And since I have already given into cliché once, why not do it again? Let’s start with a personal anecdote!

I grew up in a house that had, at a minimum, two newspapers delivered every day of the week. And until recently, I lived in the house that was the same: one local paper and one national paper. But then I found I couldn’t keep up with it all so I dropped my daily subscription to The Globe and Mail to Saturdays only. And then last week, I canceled my subscription to The Windsor Star.

Now there are a number of reasons why I canceled both my newspaper subscriptions. There’s part of me that would like to present the long list of my complaints and outline the necessary actions required to win me back over as a reader. But this is where the cliché must end.

Instead, I would like to bring to your attention to two essays that I have recently stumbled upon that better illuminate the scary predicament that newspapers find themselves in. The first is from a piece entitled, Old Media Blues.

Journalism is not being brought low by excess supply of content; it's being steadily eroded by insufficient demand for advertising pages. For most of history, most publications lost money, or at best broke even, on their subscription base, which just about paid for the cost of printing and distributing the papers. Advertising was what paid the bills. To be sure, some of that advertising is migrating to blogs and similar new media. But most of it is simply being siphoned out of journalism altogether. Craigslist ate the classified ads. eHarmony stole the personals. Google took those tiny ads for weird products. And Macy's can email its own damn customers to announce a sale.

Don’t believe it? Look at this photo:

Just a sample of the ad flyers I'm missing

After I stopped subscribing to The Windsor Star, I started receiving a massive batch of advertising fliers on Friday afternoon. I have a feeling that subscriptions of the paper have plunged due to the city's recent economic woes. (Local CUPE union members have also canceled their subscriptions to protest the paper's coverage of the current 'work stoppage'). Has it gotten so bad that the paper is continuing to deliver fliers for free in order to keep their advertising rates up? Evidently it has.

What’s particularly sad is the paper’s own pitch to subscribe to their paper. “Love sports? Love movies? Then you’ll love the newspaper!” -- which in our case, is stuffed with crappy wire copy coverage on these subjects from other CanWest newspapers. Are these newspaper folks stupid? Don’t they know that folks can just get on the Internet and have access to some of the best written coverage of every sport, entertainment genre, and niche interest? Well no, says Michael Nielsen. Newspaper folks aren’t stupid and they aren’t evil either. The newspaper industry is just stuck in an organizational architecture that doesn't allow for disruptive change.

Part of me feels badly about dropping my newspaper subscriptions on account that I really do believe in the societal importance of good journalism. But, as I have mentioned before, The Windsor Star is a bloated mass of advertising and bland wirecopy, peppered with bizarre right-wing syndicated columnists.

Each day there are only about ten items of local reporting and local opinion and that's what I want to read.

And the irony is that I find that I can find and read this local material much easier by following my local paper using Twitter.


Anonymous said...

Hey Mita. Long time!

I dropped my Washington Post subscription. Now I get calls from their marketers all the time and when they ask why I won't subscribe, I say "because the Washington Post is free online." Little do they know that I'd be willing to pay for an online subscription.

Jay Mazumdar

jodi said...

It's funny that I never connected receipt of the Star Review with cancellation of the Star; I assumed everyone was getting it. But it's true we didn't see it either until we cancelled our paper. I began phoning the Star and demanding they stop delivering the ad fliers to us each time one showed up in the mailbox. It only took them about two years to comply.

Kristi said...

I have to say your description of the Windsor Star is spot-on perfect!