Monday, March 16, 2009

About that newspaper ‘doomsday' list

DON’T lose too much sleep over the list of 10 supposedly doomed newspapers that made the rounds in the last couple of days.
Although some of the papers one day may succumb to anemic readership and revenues, there is not enough information or analysis underlying the scary list to support the proposition that the publications are more or less doomed than any of 10, 20 or 30 other papers that might have been named, instead.
For the record, the papers on the list are the Philadelphia Daily News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Miami Herald, Detroit News, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Daily News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The hit list, which was produced by Douglas A. McIntyre at 24/7 Wall St., was rapidly and uncritically republished everywhere from Time Magazine to the Drudge Report. Although Doug is a friend whose ordinarily thoughtful work I have cited on occasion, there is no hard data or deep analysis to support his findings.
Doug gives no evidence why the Plain Dealer is any more endangered than any of the other newspapers published by its parent, Advance Publications. Or why the Miami and Fort Worth papers are more at risk than some of the other McClatchy titles.
Even though weak economies are hardest on the No. 2 papers in two-newspaper towns, Doug predicts the demise of the print edition of the Boston Globe while saying nothing of the apparently fragile financial status of the far smaller Boston Herald.
Two more No. 2 papers, the Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News, indeed are facing steep challenges, as discussed respectively here and here.
Doug joins the many commentators who have been quick to predict the demise of the San Francisco Chronicle, but, as explained here, it is unlikely the Chron will be shut down. Rather, it almost certainly will be folded in due course into the cluster of MediaNews Group papers that encircle it in northern California.
Given that MediaNews, the parent of the Detroit News, is locked into a complex series of financial relationships with Gannett, the senior partner in the Motown joint-operating agreement, it seems unlikely the parties can let the News fail.
While the Strib and N.Y. News face fierce cross-town competition in their respective markets, each has the potential to partner with a rival paper to drastically reduce operating expenses and, thus, enhance profitability. The potential partner in the Twin Cities is the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The N.Y. News could team with Newsday, the New York Post or even the Newark Star-Ledger.
Doug’s doomsday list omits the names of some papers that arguably could be more endangered than the ones he mentioned. One of them is the Seattle Times, whose publisher says he is "holding on by our fingertips" even as the competing Post-Intelligencer seems poised to go out of business.


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