The newspaper business is dying -- slowly. Alan Freeman writes:
I spent most of my career in newspapers and I’m not particularly nostalgic for the print version. Like most people, I now consume most of my news online. But I am worried about how the death of newspapers is affecting newsgathering itself.
For generations, newspapers formed the core of non-partisan, fact-based coverage of what was going in our communities. After waves of cutbacks, reporting jobs are disappearing. In the U.S., there are 20,000 fewer positions in newspaper newsrooms than there were 20 years ago. And though it’s great to see the growth of online media, from Buzzfeed to iPolitics, so far it has not been able to make up the shortfall.
Every new idea seems to meet with disaster:
Torstar Corp., the publisher of The Toronto Star, announced this week that it was eviscerating the dedicated team set up for its tablet edition — after having spent something like $35 million to launch the product over the past two years. It’s laying off 52 employees, most of them attached to the tablet edition.
Just last year, John Cruickshank, The Star’s recently retired publisher, gushed that the tablet version of the paper, Star Touch, was going to be “the biggest change in storytelling in a century.”
And the concept which was going to revolutionize the business has fallen flat:
Before the tablet, there was “convergence.” Remember that? At the height of the dotcom bubble in 2000, somebody had the smart idea that the future would be about marrying telecommunications providers with content companies like newspapers and TV stations. So we got the mega-merger of Time-Warner with AOL in the U.S. and copycats in Canada — BCE’s purchase of CTV and The Globe and Mail and CanWest Global’s purchase of the old Southam newspaper chain from Conrad Black.
Leonard Asper of CanWest Global breathlessly called his deal “the ultimate convergence transaction.” By 2009, CanWest had collapsed. What emerged from the ashes is Postmedia, the zombie newspaper chain that has never made a dollar in profits for anybody except its executives and whose stock last traded at 2 cents a share. And with new leadership at BCE, that convergence miracle also collapsed and the Thomson family ended up back as the sole owner of The Globe and Mail.
Journalism is in trouble. And, when journalism is in trouble, democracy is in trouble.